We all know that Matt Murdock has an arsenal of abilities and tricks up his sleeve which make it possible for him to do things us mere mortals cannot. Because of his heightened senses, he not only functions believably (well, sort of) as a superhero, but manages to compensate for his lack of sight in many ways. However, in the absence of normal vision – which the colorless and generally enigmatic radar sense does not provide – there are certain tasks which Matt would approach in about the same way as a non-powered blind person. If you’ve read this far and find yourself thinking “Wait just a minute now, Daredevil can see better than all of us!” you need to go read my old post “My other senses more than compensate” where you will be proven wrong. 😉
At the end of the day, most fans would probably agree that Matt would (and should) have problems with all kinds of screens, displays or exclusively visual indicators. In fact, any and all information rendered exclusively visually and in two-dimensions (with the exception of print, provided he is close enough to touch it) lie beyond what his senses can decipher. In the real world, the blind use a wide range of assistive technology to access information or accomplish tasks for which eyesight is otherwise necessary. Many of these tools and gadgets would probably just gather dust in Matt Murdock’s closet since he gets by without them. However, there are many devices that would be useful to him and which should have a place in the Daredevil comic, if only as background elements to create a better sense of realism in the book.
In this post, I will be looking at the few instances of any kind of assistive device being featured in the Daredevil comic, and use them as examples of how to do it right. Most of these examples are from volume two, hopefully a sign that including pieces of technology that most readers would probably think of as being pretty cool, is increasingly being viewed a positive addition to how Daredevil stories are told rather than the sign of weakness many writers seemed to have feared in decades past.
The braille watch
Fairly low-tech, the braille watch is the oldest and, by far, the most common example of technology for the blind that you’ll see in Daredevil. A braille watch is more of an adaptive device than an assistive device (i.e. it’s an example of an altered version of a product everyone uses, not a novel device created specifically to meet a need only the blind would have). The example below is taken from Daredevil #173, by Frank Miller, but panels showing Matt using a braille watch go back to the first decade of publication. The term “braille watch” is something of a misnomer since the tactile dots that exist on the face of the watch are not standard braille. A person checks the time by opening the glass top and feeling the position of the hands. Follow this link for a look at a real-life braille watch.
It says something about the scarcity of good examples of assistive technology when I feel compelled to include the panel below, from Daredevil #314, by D.G. Chichester and Scott McDaniel. I’m not sure a tactile subway map counts as technology per se, but I suppose it’s an example of something Matt might have lying around the house (though Frank Miller would have us believe that he stays out of the subway as much as possible). However, it does address Matt’s weakness in the general pictures and graphics area. Even when drawing, charts and maps are rendered in a way that would make them discernable under his hyper-sensitive fingertips, this makes for a very inefficient way of taking in that kind of information. When you look at a map or a complicated diagram, one of the keys to understanding it is being able to scan the whole thing at once rather than looking at it through a tube as narrow as the width of a couple of fingertips. I totally buy that Matt would be able to make sense of simple line drawings and diagrams, so long as the link layer is high enough, but when graphic content is adapted for the blind, it often comes with instructions for how to make sense of it, which would absolutely be useful even for Mr. Daredevil.
Moving on to the very first issue of the second volume of Daredevil, by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada, we see Matt using a phone that I can’t quite make sense of. Where are the number buttons on it? Off panel somewhere? Either way, he seems to have the speed dial buttons labeled in braille, which makes sense. I guess this is another example of my really having to stretch my imagination to find any decent use of assistive technology at all, but it does bring up the subject of using braille labels generally. These can be made on the fly using a braille label maker (they come in various makes and models), which is sort of the braille version of those DYMO label makers I remember from my childhood. It would make perfect sense for Matt to slap one of these puppies on files and folders around the law office. If he ever bothered showing up for work, that is. I’m going to leave it up to fellow fan Alice “the Darediva,” braille transcriber in training, to figure out if any of the markings below make sense.
Description: Matt is shown sitting in front of his phone. The phone has wide speed-dial buttons marked in braille. Matt thinks “I need something to take my mind off her. Or someone. Natasha… How honest a boyfriend was I, after all? I kept an old flame’s number on my speed dial. I tell myself it’s her S.H.I.E.L.D satellite link up code… the one she gave me in case of terrorist threats beyond my capabilities. I’m a good liar. Comes with the job. What’s the big deal? I want to talk to her about a case… or a Hydra rumor… or a… all right — so I’m not such a good liar.”
Computers! (Yes, the blind use them…)
In the following issue, by the same team, we see a very rare occurrence in the Daredvil comic, that is Matt using a computer. And while Matt looks as ugly as sin in these panels (I thought Quesada did a much better job drawing him in the Parts of a Hole arc), this scene is much better than the last time Matt was portrayed as a regular computer user back during Chichester’s run. If you’re not familiar with my dislike of the nonsensical idea that computer screens can be read by touch – which Chichester introduced – you can read about it in my post “Wacky power #11 – Reading computer screens… by touch.” In the panels below, the content on the screen is read out loud, which makes about a million times more sense.
Description: Caption box reads “The law offices of Sharpe, Nelson and Murdock.” Matt is shown seated at his computer which reads out “Zysk, Brian David. Male. Born August second. Father: Joseph Q, age thirty-two; Mother: Nanci D, age twenty nine. End of listings.” Matt is thinking “So much for Saint Anthony’s. That’s the two hundredth and twelfth hospital’s records I’ve accessed, and I’ve yet to come across a birth record that matches the baby or Gwyneth. Ironically almost all of their recent births also account for over half of their recent deaths. So much carnage. With no possible explanation, as if one exists that could ever console the grieving. All anyone can do at this point is bring the guilty parties to justice. O and others like me spend most of our lives protecting the innocent, none of us ever thought of doing something as simple as periodically checking in on any given hospital’s neo-natal ward. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just a bandage on a cancer.”
From my own brief experience of working with accessibility issues, I know that lots of people, even in the web design field, are unaware that even people who are totally blind can and do use computers. In fact, I was baffled that so many people would have instinctively believed Matt’s words below, from Daredevil #44 (vol 2), by Bendis and Maleev: “You detectives seem to have a hard time grasping the concept that I’m a blind man. It makes it hard to see the screen.”
Description: Interrogation scene. Matt has been arrested for murder and is interviewed by two police officers. The first officer says, in reference to searching Matt’s aparment, “Too much nothing.” Officer number 2: “So much nothing that you know what I said?” Officer number 1: “This is the kind of nothing that used to be something.” Officer number 2: “You don’t even have a personal computer.” Matt replies “I don’t have one personally, but my office has a network.” Officer number 1: “No computer?” Matt: “You detectives seem to have a hard time grasping the concept that I’m a blind man. It makes it hard to see the screen.” Officer number 1: “They don’t make computers for blind people?” Matt: “My office has a network:”
Matt certainly has a point; it does make it hard to see the screen. However, the officer in this case has a point too: They do make computers for the blind (or at least software to install), and this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, we’ve cloned sheep and put people on the moon. How hard can it be to render digital content in ways you don’t have to see to be able to access?
In the real world, as in the case of the Smith/Quesada panel above, blind people use so-called screen-reading software, which sends the content to either a braille display or, more commonly, produces audio in the form of synthesized speech. The computer itself is controlled using only the keyboard, without a mouse. Even if one were to go along with the notion that Matt would be able to get anything from touching the screen, screen-reading software still has him beat. Screen-readers can take a page and make sense of it at a completely different level, such as listing all links on a page in a web browser or list all the headings. It’s a whole lot more rational than to, not so figuratively, fumble around in the dark.
If you’ve never seen this kind of software in action, I recommend the following YouTube clip made by a blind web surfer. The speaking rate can be turned up or down and most users can understand the content at several hundred words per minute (a pace at which the untrained ear would understand nothing). As this guy explains in the comments, the near insane speed of the voice in this video is set to less than half of what he’d normally use.
In the Daredevil comic, computers have been conspicuously absent from Matt’s office since the Playing to the Camera arc by Bob Gale (which I’ll get to below). As in never even drawn into the background of a panel depicting Matt’s desk. I can’t imagine why this would be since no lawyer would be able to do his job properly these days without one. I guess this is another one of those things we can chalk up to Matt rarely actually working. 😉
Things that talk!
The Playing to the Camera arc, by Bob Gale, in which Matt takes a case which involves suing himself(!), has never been collected. If you don’t own these issues and don’t feel like tracking them down, you should know that they are available digitally at Marvel.com. You can buy a one-month subscription, with no need to commit to more, for less than five bucks, if you’re curious about checking out this arc.
Aside from some crazy stuff, the arc also features a very logical use of a talking pager, which speaks the number which would otherwise simply be shown on a display. This is just one of many examples of “talking” products for the blind, at least some of which would seem logical around the Murdock household (and we’ll get to two more below). In the panels below, from Daredevil #24 (vol 2), with art by Dave Ross and Mark Pennington, we see Matt explain how he uses a pager and, a few pages later, we get to see it in action.
Description: Matt speaks to a client: “Here’s my beeper number. Have Quaid contact me, day or night. You understand how important this is?” Client: “Yes, I’ll make that extremely clear.” Matt thinks, “And when Quaid calls my beeper, I’ll have a number to trace.” Client asks, “Murdock? Just curious: How does a blind man read a beeper?” Matt answers, “It talks.”
Description: Matt is seated in a restaurant with Foggy when his beeper goes off. Matt says “It’s my beeper! maybe this is him calling!” He presses a button on the beeper which speaks “five, five, five, nine, two, one, one.” Matt comments, “Griggs,” then proceeds to call Mr. Griggs.
There were a couple of instances of “talking” products during the Brubaker/Lark run as well, and the panels below are perfect examples of how assistive technology can be inserted in natural and subtle ways without any need for further comment. In the first panel, from Daredevil #95 (vol 2), we see the use of a talking caller ID. Of course, Matt was sharing his home with a non-powered blind person at the time, but his odds of being able to read a display are about as good as hers. In the second panel, from Daredevil #110, Matt comes home to a very talkative answering machine. I may have seen something similar being used by people who aren’t blind, but most standard answering machines don’t say anything until after you push the button.
Description: The phone rings while Matt is still in bed, and his wife Milla has just gotten up. He reaches for the phone, and the caller ID speaks “Incoming call from… Franklin Nelson.”
Description: Matt comes home late at night, wearing his costume. He coughs and thinks “Dakota was right, this is bigger than –” He finally pays attention to the answering machine, which says “You have… one… message… you have…”
I would love to see more assistive technology featured in Daredevil, when and if it makes sense to include it. I don’t think the Daredevil comic should ever forget that it is first and foremost a superhero comic, albeit it both modern and mature with a commendable amount of depth, and I don’t advocate writers forcing developments and features into stories where they don’t belong. However, there are plenty of situations where doing something along the lines of what we’ve seen in this post is perfectly appropriate, and that adds to making Daredevil more believable. For right now, I’d settle for Diggle giving him a computer (even if it does nothing aside from sitting on his desk). I guess leaving the Hand to read his email just seems like a terrible idea.
And, speaking of the Hand, I’ll see you back here tomorrow for the review of Dark Reign – The List: Daredevil, which is due out in North America today!