About Pete's Alley

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This site is an online resource for the disabled community, including their friends, relatives, and other supporters. It will index and review resources, provide communication channels, etc. For example, you are invited to join the Pete’s Alley mailing list at (http://pa.groups.io).

By way of explanation, although the word “alley” is meant to suggest an informal gathering spot, it’s also a pun on “a11y” (popular shorthand for “accessibility”). In a similar vein, folks who contribute to the effort are known as “Pete’s Allies”.

Motivation

Pete’s Alley is named after Pete Ostrom, an intelligent and adventurous soul whom Rich Morin met in the late 1960’s. Despite Pete’s Muscular Dystrophy, Rich and Pete went on a number of excursions around California, typically in a (first-generation, underpowered) Volkswagen Transporter with a homebrew (hinged plywood) loading ramp.

In those pre-ADA days, curb cuts and wheelchair ramps were few and far between. So, Rich mostly used brute force to haul Pete past any obstructions. Complicating matters still further, the wheelchairs themselves weren’t very solidly constructed. For example, because the spokes on Pete’s wheelchair kept breaking, he had to have his wheels relaced with motorcycle spokes.

Pete would have loved the World Wide Web. He (and Isabell Ostrom, his very supportive mother) would also have benefited greatly from today’s ever-increasing offerings in accessible technology. However, they might have been frustrated by the difficulty of discovering relevant resources and evaluating their suitability.

Mass-market web sites such as Amazon list huge numbers of products. Some of these (e.g., walkers, wheelchairs, white canes) may be obviously relevant to someone with a particular disability. However, the relevance of other products may be less obvious. Bluetooth-enabled cooking devices, for example, can be very useful to the blind and vision-impaired. However, they are not marketed as assistive devices and no mention of this applicability will generally appear in product descriptions or reviews.

It can also be difficult to find detailed information on resources. Even when a web site is accessible (and all too many are not), variations in approach and organization can be frustrating. Seemingly simple tasks such as finding contact or product information may take inordinate amounts of time.

Note: The LightHouse Labs talk page is adapted from a short presentation I gave at the SF LightHouse in May 2019. The first part discusses Pete’s Alley; the second discusses Perkian and describes the general approach taken in Perkify.

Approach

Pete’s Alley addresses these issues in several ways, including:

Although there are a number of web sites that deal with disabilities, this site has its own unique approach and flavor. If you like what we’ve done so far, please consider helping us to extend and support it: contribute entries and reviews for our resource Catalog, along with long-form Content: Essays, HowTos, and Overviews.

Implementation

The web site’s pages are generated from a tree of human-editable files, containing a mixture of structured data and unstructured text. The online content is loaded (and updated) from this file tree, indexed in various ways, and converted to web pages on request. The server-side application code is implemented using the Elixir programming language and the Phoenix web framework. For more information, visit Pete’s Alley - Implementation.