Tools for Life

How Technology Helps People with Disabilities
Produced in 1988 (Run time 17:52)

Narrator: Every day, we need to go places, do things, talk to people. And we use tools to help us. Tools to get from here to there. Tools to work. Tools to share ideas. And there are special tools for people with special needs, technological devices that help them do the same things everyone else does – study, learn, and grow.

Pat Alexander: In the fall when school began, most of the children had not been with Xa the previous year. So as he came in with his special friend, we sat down and talked as a group about that being Xa's voice. We all had our own voices. His voice was for him alone. It was his way to speak with us.

Girl #1: He'll talk to you. He has to punch it out and then he'll push…he'll push a button and it will talk what he wants to say.

Girl #2: The first day they let us touch it, but then after that, we couldn't touch it. And then when I started to sit next to him at lunch, then he was my friend then.

Pat Alexander: Kylesha.

Kylesha: Here.

Pat Alexander: Robert.

Boy: Oh, let me go get my tennis shoes.

Pat Alexander: Sheldon.

Sheldon: Here.

Pat Alexander: Leah. >

Leah: Here.

Pat Alexander: Xa.

Xa's voice: Here.

Judith Hanson: Xa had been using a picture board when he came to Hiawatha. And he used it to express his basic needs, but he didn't use it for conversation, back and forth interaction with other kids and adults. And we gave him the speaking machine, thinking that that might facilitate communication and conversation for him. It was real difficult for him because he hadn't been used to talking to people just in a conversation like you and I would talk to one another. So it took about a year for him to feel comfortable using the machine and going up and talking to people. Now he's so successful that he doesn't shut up. [Laughs]

Judith Hanson: Do you think that's what a dog doctor does?

Students: No. Yes.

Judith Hanson: Yeah he does, he does. If you take your dog to the vet, he'll look at his eyes and his nose. Yes Xa.

Xa: Check heart.

Judith Hanson: Check heart, yeah; they do check your heart.

Sandy Schippits: I had heard a speaker once who had just acquired a communication system, and he had said that he had felt as if he had been a prisoner trapped within his own body because he had no way of expressing the language and his own feelings and his own ideas until he was able to get a communication system and be able to say what he was thinking and feeling.

Judith Hanson: You'd name it. All right. I want you to…

Xa: Maybe or maybe not.

Judith Hanson: Maybe or maybe not you'd keep it. If you were going to keep it, what would you name it? I want you to think, now just think a minute about a name that …

Boy : Just with the machine, it's just like being a normal kid carrying around a machine that helps him talk. It's not like… He's not…He's not no…Well, he's a little different, but he's not like no outer space kid or something. He's… He's a… He's a good kid.

Pat Alexander: During the fall when we'd go outside, the children cut across the grass, and he would take his machine out on the cart, so he would need to walk around on the sidewalk. And most of the time, someone volunteers to walk around with him. And we had been out there perhaps ten minutes, and they were finally arriving with the group. And I said to them, "Where have you been?" And his companion said, "Oh, we were just talking." So, it works [Laughs].

Narrator: There are all kinds of devices that help children to live and learn in the community. Corey uses a headlight to activate his computer, an example of a high tech communication tool.

Woman #1: My name is, okay, Corey Johnson. Return.

Narrator: The complicated electronic devices…

Woman #2: You want your turn…

Narrator: …are not always necessary or appropriate.

Kathy Dahlgren: Nathan and Vesigh are using communication boards to play the game, color and shaping [Inaudible]. The kids such as Vesigh and Nathan are just beginning to learn symbols, and it takes them a while to learn how to use them.

Sandy Schippits: We're looking very closely at what is the best device for a student in terms of their cognitive abilities, their physical abilities, the academic abilities.

Nathan: Soda pop.

Kathy Dahlgren: Soda pop? I don't think we have soda pop in school.

Tony: [Inaudible] I want burrito

Kathy Dahlgren: You want a burrito? I want pizza. Tony has a blind grandfather and so the machine is really nice for him to take home because his grandfather can't see if he's just pointing to symbols on a board. He can hear with the machine.

Kathy Dahlgren: Don't you like pizza? Oh, that's my favorite. Yum. I like pizza. I like it.

Sandy Schippits: Without the assistance of either a picture or the spoken word or even the alphabet as one of the boys had used, you might not know what that student is trying to say to you. And there are many times that our kids do come to school in the morning and they have something really exciting that had happened to them the night before. They want to tell you about it but, because you have no point of reference, you don't have any idea what they're trying to share with you when they're not intelligible. So, with the supportive system, whatever it may be, you can somehow access that information and become a part of their environment and their life.

Narrator: As important as it is to communicate, it's equally as important to be able to get from one place to another. We don't think much about it. We just get up and go. But for some people it's not that easy. When you have a disability, you might need a little help from modern technology. Often, it's critical to be where decisions are made if you want to influence the course of events and of your life.

Woman #5: I had polio when I was 9 years old. I'm also in an iron lung because my diaphragm is paralyzed.

I went to the caucus. I got elected.

Woman #6: Oh did you really?

Woman #5: Yeah delegate and vice chair.

I taught myself how to frog breathe, which allows me to be out of the iron lung and to do the many things that I do in my electric wheelchair.

Lee Greenfield: Nothing fazes her. Nothing stops her, all timing problems and dealing with bus schedules and pick-up schedules and all of that. Nothing fazes her. When she comes to lobby, she comes to lobby. [Laughs]

Steven Keppel: I met her when she was still living in the nursing home, or existing. She says that she didn't start living until actually she got out of it.

Woman #5: Before I daydreamed a lot. I would daydream about washing floors and cleaning, doing household chores. But I don't daydream anymore. I can do a lot of things.

I'm with the…

Steven Keppel: It's like her life was brought to her and is… everything was, she expected it to be brought to her. And the entertainment was brought to her. The food was brought to her. The…everything. And when she got power, or her electric wheelchair, that whole situation reversed. She was able to reach out to others. To go places. To give.

Woman #5: Technology has enlightened my life. It's allowed me to fulfill many, many dreams, which I had before.

Steven Keppel: I think that technology does… I don't like to use the phrase "normal life." I think more so what it does is, it gives a person choices in life. And that's what life's all about is choices.

Rachael Wobschall: Technology is an equalizer between people, and it allows them to utilize their potential and recognize each of their capabilities, not limited by any particular physical or other kind of functional limitation.

Marty Carlson: The problem, though, sometimes is that there isn't funding to pay for this technology.

Rachael Wobschall: The technological revolution has come about so quickly and continues to advance at such a rapid rate that it's hard for traditional programs that are generally reactive in the first place to be proactive in terms of providing technology, providing the necessary funding.

Marty Carlson: Reimbursement policies are slow to change, and so what we think is possible and really is possible is not always accessible to the people that need it.

Rachael Wobschall: We believe that it's morally and economically responsible to get technology into the hands of people who need it. It makes them more productive members… I should say it makes us more productive members of society and fully utilizes everyone's capabilities.

Karen Benzie Saunders: Having the three-wheel scooter has made a world of difference to me. I had been working, walking slow, without canes, with canes, with connecting crutches, and now I'm moving into using the scooter. And it was this wonderful memory of how easy it is if you're walking to go from point A to point B. The major benefit to the company to having provided this machine, technology, tool – whatever you want to label it – truck, is that it allows me to be as productive of a worker as I am capable of being. And to me, that's, as we say in business, the bottom line. You know, productivity ends up being dollars. And I see it no different than any other tools they purchase. They purchased an overhead as a tool. They purchase pens and pencils, and people use those as tools to do their job efficiently and be as productive as they can be.

Joan Orke: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities generally is 67%. For women with disabilities, it's closer to 75%. For racial minorities with disabilities, it's somewhere in the 90th percentile. So unemployment is very high. This is the largest unemployed subgroup in our country.

Narrator: And of this group, two-thirds want to work. Most of them just need the training, support, and tools to do the job. Lake Kissick is a company sales representative, part-time teacher, and he runs his own consulting firm. He also has cerebral palsy. He lives in his own apartment with attendants coming by for few hours each day. When Lake wants to communicate, he uses a light pointer mounted on a headband to control a panel in front of him, and he usually has something to say.

Narrator as Lake Kissick: When you look at me, you can see that I'm sitting in wheelchair. I can move my feet, but I can't walk. I can move my arms, but I can't write or even turn the pages of a book. But you can tell by my eyes that my mind is just like yours.

Joan Orke: No, I think there is a fear. I think that people are just generally afraid of disabilities. They're afraid of how to approach a person, what to say to a person, how you deal with them. Some people are afraid of increased costs because of disability.

Narrator: After Lake was born, his parents were told they might as well as put him in an institution and forget about him. Luckily, they didn't.

Joan Orke: I see all kinds of professions changing as children who have disabilities now are allowed to grow into what they want to become.

Narrator as Lake Kissick: Until I was 10, my communication was playing 20 questions. My dad came up with a head pointer. That was before they were commonly used.

Joan Orke: One in four of us stands a chance of developing some sort of disability due to accident or illness. And so when we make our society more open and more accommodating for people with disabilities, really what we're doing is we're making it more accommodating for all of us.

Steven Keppel: Too often this society focuses in on the disability of people. They see the chrome or the wood on the crutches or whatever, and they don't see the person behind it. They forget that, you know, that I may have a disability but I also may have a hundred abilities, or maybe 10.

Narrator: With the right technology and tools, Lake has been able to follow his entrepreneurial instincts and follow his will to succeed.

Narrator as Lake Kissick: I prefer to focus on what I can do rather than what I can't do. If we never try new and risky ventures, how will we know if we can accomplish them?

Narrator: Technology has made employment possible where it wasn't before, communications and mobility possible where they weren't before. It does make a difference.

Steven Keppel: Friday afternoon, my wheelchair broke down, my electric wheelchair. So that meant that I had to resort to being pushed around pretty much the weekend. And which, by itself, can drive you crazy because you really… I didn't realize how much I really appreciated my electric wheelchair, quite frankly, or the ability to turn around and look out the window if I wanted to, you know, without having to ask for somebody to get up and do it or whatever. Like I said, it's gave me more choices, so I was really limited. And on top of that, my splint that holds my fingers together like that busted, too; so I wasn't able to push any buttons. And then I was going crazy because I couldn't type, I couldn't turn on anything. I couldn't turn off anything. I couldn't feed myself because my fork fits in the splint, so I had to be fed. And it was going back to, like 22 years ago when I first broke my neck. And come Monday morning when I was able to go get everything fixed up, it was, like, thank God for all this modern stuff, you know. I don't know how I did it when I first broke my neck. It was amazing. At least now I appreciate, you know, all the buttons and ability, the ability to push the buttons to run my little chair.

What a difference it makes.