When I was around three or four years old, even before my first power chair, my parents were trying to set up a “Jellybean Switch,” a big red but-ton they thought I needed to use the computer. They were reading the instructions and trying to hook it up, but getting nowhere. Meanwhile, in either a state of frustration or determination, I apparently reached out and started clicking the regular mouse. This sparked my Dad’s curiosity, so when he saw an ad in an electronics catalog for a “Turbo Mouse,” a computer mouse controlled by rolling a big ball, he decided to order it. It was a major success.
My love of computers took off from there, which my parents encouraged, as it was something I could do independently. I discovered that when I used the computer, I could do things just like everybody else. I had trouble play-ing physical board games, but realized I could do it on the computer. I couldn’t physically draw, color, or write like other kids, but I could do it on the computer. Growing up, being able to access the computer opened up so many doors.
As technology has evolved, it has made things easier. I’ve become more efficient. I now work my computer using the joystick on my power chair. The computer itself has evolved, too. Growing up, I had to use an on-screen keyboard and type letter by letter. It had a word predictor, but typing was still an extremely slow process. It would’ve taken me days, and lots of
sweat, to write this one blog piece. I now use Dragon Dictate for Mac. It’s a program that types what you speak. It took me 10 years to find a version that understood my voice. It still has its days, and makes mistakes, but it’s a lot more efficient than my on-screen keyboard.
If I didn’t have access to the computer, my opportunities and independence would be significantly decreased. The computer leveled the playing field for me. I almost think of the computer and my other technology as an extension of my hands, as it has allowed me to do things independently that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
Without the computer, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be employed in this field, let alone writing this blog piece right now. Sure, I could dictate it to some-one, and have them write it down, but that’s actually harder. My thoughts might be censored. I’ve always been more comfortable writing on the computer versus having somebody write for me. I believe gaining access to the computer from an early age helped develop my confidence and demonstrated that I can do pretty much everything that everybody else can do, including being employed.
Since I am very passionate about assistive technology, and want as many people with disabilities to have access to it, here are some resources to check out.
Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF)
Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF) provides funding for different types of assistive technology and modifications that allow people with disabilities to be more independent.
Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT)
Pennsylvania’s Initiative on Assistive Technology (PIAT) is a program through Temple University that provides device demonstrations, and device loans (you can borrow a device) to figure out what specific assistive technology works for you.
Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)
The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation provides Assistive Technology devices and services to eligible individuals with disabilities, if needed to get or keep a job. Assistive Technology devices include any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability.
By Alexa Brill
Communications Associate – #IWantToWork Campaign