Mary Pat Radabaugh Director of IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities said, "For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier; for people with disabilities, technology makes things possible."
I present to you today as a person who has used technology to make things easier as well as a person who has used technology to make things possible.
As a young girl, I was struggling with some of the teasing I was receiving about not having a hand. My grandmother, wise and loving, responded you were born perfect Robin, just the way you were meant to be. Are sure grandma? Maybe I am not so pretty? Perfect. Maybe I am not smart enough? Perfect. Maybe I should have had two hands, nope, you were born perfect. This ended up bringing more than comfort to a young girl, it inspired her career.
If this is true, that each of us was born perfect, just the way we were meant to be, even those of us with disabilities, does this fact then change our relationship with society as a whole and institutions such as formal education? The answer is YES!
The role of education and society in response to a people with a disability is clearly not to fix us – because we all know that improving on perfection is an act of futility – right? Their role then, is simply to include us and educate us. Provide us access... access to informal learning opportunities like swim lessons, sleepovers and camps. Access to formal learning opportunities life preschool, grade school, high school, college and the work place.
However, providing access to individuals with disabilities is not without its challenges. Those of us with disabilities live in world designed for the average body– this despite a growing body of evidence that average does not exist and is indeed a myth. And yet, it makes sense that the world has been designed for those who see, hear, ambulate and present with certain speech, language and cognitive abilities. But, these narrow design decisions have posed unnecessary barriers to those with disabilities.
But we live in an exciting time. Advances in technology have been rapid and have indeed made life easier for those without disabilities – think Google maps, hand held computers and digital photography and for those with disabilities – made things possible –computers controlled by eye gaze, prosthetic legs that support long distance running or refreshable braille allowing computer screens to be read by people who are blind.
We can leverage these technologies to provide access. Access to our peers, access to high quality instruction and access to the no tech, low tech and high technology tools that make full participation for people with disabilities possible.
We can also change how we design our world going forward. It can be designed for those who see as well as for those who don’t. We have read with our eyes for hundreds of years because our eyes were the only technology we had. But reading is no longer restricted to books and eyeballs, I can read with my fingers if I am blind and I can read with my ears if I have dyslexia. Writing is no longer restricted to paper and pencils or keyboards, I can use Dragon dictation to write if I have fine motor difficulties, no hands or ADD. Communication is no longer restricted to my ability to produce natural speech, with an augmentative and alternative communication system, I can talk. So cool! In a video game, I can be anyone I want to be, I can be a world class two handed basketball player, I can fly or I can save the world from a zombie invasion
We humans are tool users, I challenge you to think later today about how many tools you use to get through just one day.
You use this tool to open a can (traditional can opener).
I use this tool (can opener designed for one handed use).
They are different, but they accomplish the same goal. Neither tool makes us better, but most importantly, neither tool makes us less.
We are social beings, no one gets where they are standing today without the help of others. Therefore, given access to tools, access to peers, access to informal and formal learning opportunities, we can all be full participants in this journey called life.
SPEECH: March 5, 2015, Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Salem, OR (by Robin Shobe)