Darkening Doors: Macabre Pittsfield Walking Tours

The October offerings in the Berkshires have gained a formidable addition with Macabre Pittsfield Walking Tours, created and lead by writer and historian (and friend of the blog) Joe Durwin.

Because I couldn’t write it better myself, here’s the Durwinian description of the experience: “Embark on a journey through a downtown Pittsfield far removed from what we know today. A place of desecrated graves and skeletons in church basements, of rumsellers shacks, opium dens, and murders most foul…”

Indeed, the tour in its October 18 form (no two tours are the same) began on the Pittsfield Common, which was once a cemetery with a serious grave-robbing problem, and crept its way through the heart of the city.

Stops along the route included the site of the former courthouse, alleys that once led to houses of ill-repute, and the spot where the old rail-station delivered some of Pittsfield’s most colorful visitors — all brought back to life through impeccably researched stories of both fact and folklore. For one, medical students were apparently ruthless in the 1800s, particularly when it came to cadavers.

An added bonus of the tour is multiple stops also showcase the Berkshire Lightscapes project, which aims to illuminate downtown buildings and spaces in downtown Pittsfield through animated LED light systems. It’s a nice touch, especially when the topic turns to UFO sightings and alien encounters.

Word on the street is some kid-friendly tours are in the works for next season… though I’m also personally hopeful that these tours will continue in the warmer months. There’s nothing quite like scaring groups of tourists by the dozen.

Close up of two hands holding a phone and a 3D castle is popping out of the phone screen

Sinking my Teeth into Professional Development: Accessibility Edition

It’s been a minute (as the kids-these-days say) since I’ve taken on any substantial professional development.

I’m always reading articles, white papers, and case studies relative to this communicative world we live in, but the professional, personal, and pandemic stressors of today have kept me from enrolling in any kind of course that would add real beef to my skill-set sandwich.

Thanks to the university system for which I work, however, I was able to turn that around and take advantage of a full suite of online accessibility training free-of-charge this month. It was coursework I’ve long filed under “I really need to do this,” and once I got started, I wished I’d done it sooner.

Digital accessibility — the process of making websites, apps, and everything on ’em accessible to all, regardless of disability type or severity of impairment — is a discussion that surrounds a lot of what I do as a writer and marketer. With so much of the content we create headed online as a final destination, checking that screen readers, closed captioning services, and other assistive tech can interact with that content is imperative.

That said, it’s also easy to get lost in the mire of everything that needs to be done to get a message out at all, and fail to check or optimize accessibility. Or, in what seems to happen even more often, we limp along with just enough of an understanding to make a document, photo, or video compliant, but not necessarily ideal for the end-user.

That’s when those “I really need to take a class…” thoughts start creeping in, because we, the content creators, know through both gut and experience that it’s easier to make something accessible upon creation, not after-the-fact.

So finally, I’ve taken the damn class. Offered through Deque University —an off-shoot of global accessibility consultancy Deque Systems Inc. — I plowed through 22 online accessibility training courses and earned four curricula certificates, and I’m feeling much better.

The courses were meaty; I know I’ll use the information in my job immediately, and frankly there’s something to be said for finishing the quizzes and receiving your certificate and continuing education credits. It’s very Pavlovian.

Here’s a run-down of what I was able to bite off by carving time out of late afternoons and evenings:

DeQue University certificate of completion

Document Accessibility Curriculum 1.2 Certificate

This set of courses is probably the most appropriate for a full-time writer or communications wonk like myself. It includes 11 classes focused on ensuring documents are created with accessibility in mind, from Word docs to PDFs to online content.

DeQue University certificate of completion

Accessibility Program Management Curriculum 2.0 Certificate

I think I ultimately enjoyed this curriculum the most, as it presented a lot of new information and taught me some new tricks. It consists of five classes focused on ‘baking in’ accessibility at a departmental level, continuing some of the document accessibility lessons from a managerial perspective, and adding others with a legal flavor. An overview of Section 508, for instance, dives deep into the requirements all Federal agencies and departments must meet to provide access to information and communication technology to people with disabilities.

DeQue University certificate of completion

Native Mobile Apps Curriculum 1.0 Curriculum Certificate

This three-course block focused on accessibility as it applies to mobile apps — managing, designing, and testing.

Certificate
OF COMPLETION
Jaclyn Stevenson
has completed the courses in the
Customer Service for People with Disabilities
Curriculum
Version 1.0
28th of May, 2021
4 courses, 1.00 IAAP Continuing Accessibility Education Credits (CAECs)

Customer Service for People with Disabilities 1.0 Curriculum Certificate

It seemed like a no-brainer to take this unit, and the four-class run included communications courses geared toward both in-person and remote conversation. It also came with the added benefit of a glossary of accepted and unaccepted terms that can be added to our style guide.

While I didn’t have any particular allegiance to Deque as a training body before, these curricula definitely felt important and applicable while I was taking them; they’re updated frequently, well-written, and appear to be recognized as valuable certificates out there in the zeitgeist.

What are you getting certified in these days?

Cover Image by FunkyFocus from Pixabay

Call for Blogtoberfest Entries!

I always welcome guest posts at The Jump, but I take the collection thereof more seriously from October 1 to All Hallows Eve. The results have been varied and awesome, ranging in topic from witches to zombies to Neil Diamond.

Over the years, Blogtoberfest Guest Post submissions evolved into a full-on contest, with winners, prizes, and the bestowing of appropriate amounts of online glory.

Winners will be decided by readers via an online poll at the end of the month. There’s no length requirement or limit, and posts need not be spooky. October is also the month of harvest, baseball, and Breast Cancer Awareness. It may be that you or your organization has an annual event this month that deserves a little publicity. Whatever the topic – if it says October to you is fair game!

Prizes will be announced soon, and posts are accepted throughout the month, so get writing and send your entries to writerjax -at- gmail.com!

Hexmarks Abound

Years ago, I wrote an article about The Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield, Mass., named as such for the mark on its front door handle — a hexmark, also known as a Salem Cross.

Hexmarks were placed on doors across New England during the Salem Witch Trials, as a way to ward off evil spirits and the government, unless that’s redundant.

Upon relaying this tidbit to my mother while visiting home (a 1786 farmhouse on Cape Cod), she said nonchalantly, ‘Oh, we have those.’

Here’s a photo of my parent’s garage door, and the front door at Salem Cross:

Who knew.