Last week Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine, Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Director Kevin Miller, and many others visited Assistive Technology of Ohio. AT Ohio Executive Director Dr. Bill Darling provided an update on the latest technology to assist Ohioans with disabilities to become employed and/or be more independent and interactive in their homes and communities.
Mr. Brad Whitmoyer – a small businessperson with a disability who is nonverbal – showed us how he uses current technology to communicate and run his own business. Mr. Whitmoyer uses the Accent 1400 AAC device from Prentke Romich. It is an interactive computer where he selects icons that correspond to words that allow him to quickly build complete sentences. He uses a combination of eye-gaze technology and a switch to select the appropriate icon.
This meeting brings several important issues to mind that I wish to highlight.
First, as an Ohioan with a disability, it is good to be represented by elected and appointed folks who have spent many years directly working with people with disabilities, advocates, and many others, supporting our full participation in employment and our communities. FYI, longtime advocates like me remember, as a U.S. Senator, Mike DeWine helped author the original 1999 Workforce Investment Act that ensured that all employment programs work with the Vocational Rehabilitation program for people with disabilities leading to more employment opportunities and additional support for independent living programs.
Next, with the utmost reverence for the over 580,000 Americans who have died from COVID – 19 and many, many more with long-term illness, I submit that we must not forget or relinquish all the societal and technological advances that have come to the forefront and been widely accepted.
For most of my life, working from home was forbidden (no job if you can’t be in the office) or required special permission and many, many human resources forms to be sure it was allowed. Now, suddenly, not only is working from home necessary to keep us all healthy; it is also a “great new idea” to increase productivity.
Of course, this is where technology comes in. A myriad of creative and assistive technology has given all of us new ways to work, communicate, learn, and interact on a daily basis. Because of this – and a once in a century pandemic – society worked out what people with disabilities have done all our lives, figured out more than one way to achieve something in our work, our community, and our lives.
Governor DeWine’s visit reminded me that we have elected & appointed officials who know, support, and are constantly learning new ways for us to achieve independence and employment in our communities to the full extent of our abilities – And we need more of them.
Finally, since it seems we have now “learned” that with technology and ingenuity there are many ways to work, learn, communicate, and interact with each other; we cannot and will not return to “the way it was before”.
If you want a job, to attend a meeting, communicate with family & friends, be independent to the full extent of your abilities, and help in learning and growing new abilities, don’t allow anyone to say you/we can’t do it.
Suggest a way that works for you. Ask for help or an accommodation to figure out a way to do it. Talk about your abilities and all the things you can do.
Times and technology will constantly change. The pandemic simply accelerated some of that change.
We will not go back. There is no going back.