Technology and its Impact on This Disabled Life.

Several weeks ago I was asked to present at a conference here in Halifax on some issue relating to technology. Since there were multiple presentations taking place at the same time, some who weren’t able to take part in my presentation asked if I would make it available. Here is the basic text:

“Preparing for this presentation reminded me of the old joke about the farmer who went to church one Sunday and he was the only one to show up. The preacher asked him what he should do and he said,

“Preacher, when I go out to the barn in the morning to feed my cows and only one shows up, I still feed it.” The preacher nodded and proceeded to speak for 2 hours. When he was finished he asked the farmer what he thought.

“When I go out to feed my cows and only one shows up, I feed her, but I sure don’t give her all the hay in the barn!” So with that in mind, I’m going to give some of the hay I’ve got but I won’t throw the whole bale at you.

Technology has been a constant, both as a means of communication and expression, and as a means of transportation. Some of it is incredibly simple and other forms are more complex. When I was born, surgeons installed a tube in my head that drains extra spinal fluid out. That device was conceived, in part, by Roald Dahl, he of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame, and it has saved countless lives.

The way I get around has changed dramatically in the years since I started school. I’ve gone from an old beater of a chair that I’m sure was built in someone’s garage to this beautiful titanium 12-pound beauty I’m in today. I have a wheel that I can attach to the front of my chair that’ll make gravel or snow feel like pavement, and in this city, in this weather, that’s definitely a good thing to have in your arsenal.

Communication technology has been a huge boon to me. When I was in elementary school principal took one look at my handwriting and said, ‘you need to learn how to type’. He then had the school secretary bring an old typewriter into my classroom and show me how to use it. From that day forward most of my school assignments were passed in on 8 1/2 X 11, neatly typed paper. I used that typewriter until I left Grade 6.

The year I entered Grade 7, one of my aunts came to visit and told me that, because I’d be needing it to do school work for years to come, her brothers and sisters from all across the country (and a few in the US) had pooled together enough money to buy me what was then a top of the line computer, with a 1.2GB hard drive; these days you can get a watch with 8GB. I discovered a lot with that computer, for at the same time we were able to connect to dial-up internet. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has that screech burned into their brain.

When I left high school it was clear that moving on to university was not going to be possible so in October 2001 I entered NSCC Library Information Technology program. Online Ed was in its infancy then so what is usually a 2 year program took me 7 years.

As we all know, the cell phone has been a truly liberating creation. I got my first one after graduating high school, and it gave me the ability to go anywhere I wanted and still be able to easily call for help should I need it. I’ve been through three phones in the 17 or so years since I left school, and those devices have enabled me to travel worry-free to Ottawa, Toronto, and Washington DC.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when a friend of my parent’s got word that my old faithful laptop that I’d bought after graduating high school, had died. This friend gave my parents enough money to ensure I was able to buy a laptop that would suit my growing interest in freelance work, and my voracious appetite for news and information. This little beauty of a machine goes with me everywhere, and as I now live here in Halifax, my internet speeds are roughly 45x what I get when visiting my parents.

So, we’ve covered transportation and communication. Two other ways my life wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is now, were it not for technology, are education and socializing. As high school drew to a close it was clear to most of those around me that I wasn’t ready to be on my own, so that October I enrolled in an online course in Library Information Technology from the Nova Scotia Community College. Seven years later, I completed my program and graduated. Topping it all off, most of that time I was on that faithful old dial-up internet I mentioned earlier. I know a thing or two about patience, right?

Socializing is the final area I’ll cover today, and it’s probably the one that we rely on technology for the most. My partner and I met at the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre, and for the next seven years she and I spent no more than three hours in the same space, yet because of things like MSN messenger and Skype and, more recently Facebook chat, we’re still together 10 years later.

So you can see that technology has been instrumental in my growth and independence. That said, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a support team around you. I mentioned my partner earlier, and I have a tight family that helps whenever they can. Without them I would not be here having this discussion.”

We had a few minutes left after I finished so we had a brief AMA, and I answered questions about accessible infrastructure in Halifax and attitudes toward people with disabilities. I’d like to answer any questions you have on accessibility or attitudes or anything else to do with disability; leave them in the comments below and I’ll respond to as many as I can.