Surprise: We Are Now Enabled
By John M. Williams
Recently, I was invited to a business
luncheon in Alexandria, Va., hosted by the Society for Human Resource Managers,
a group headquartered in the same city and for which I wrote from 1983 to
Several surprises greeted me as I entered
the dining room. I was surprised to see my name and picture on an easel. The
caption read John Williams, famed Assistive Technology writer. The
next surprise was learning that I was to be the featured speaker. My topic was
We Are Enabled. Underneath the topic was the phrase An
Introduction to the World of Assistive Technology. The third surprise was
learning that, after speaking, I was scheduled to answer questions for 10 to 15
I was to speak in front of more than 75
people representing technology companies and members of the restaurant, retail,
transportation, communications, medical and pharmaceutical industries.
I did not consider myself prepared to
speak, and I mentioned that to the friend who had invited me. He said: I
know you can do it. Just wing it.
I was not angry at the apparent deception
and told my friend. He was relieved.
I was introduced to Tom Farraday, the
master of ceremonies, who represented the airline industry. You have 30
minutes total, he said. Do you need anything?
Thank you. I could use 20 minutes to
get my thoughts organized.
He showed me to a room with a computer and
printer. I always carry a flash drive with me, and I went to a file called
speeches. I picked one titled Assistive Technology Makes a
Difference. A little later, Farraday introduced me by calling me a
pioneer in the disability and technology worlds.
Before I started my speech, I asked,
How many of you had heard the phrase assistive technology
before you came to this lunch? About half the people in the room raised
I then asked, How many of you know
of an employee with a disability working in your company who uses an assistive
About one fourth of the people raised
How many of you can identify an AT
device? About a quarter of the people raised their hands.
How many of you can name an AT
product? Eleven people raised their hands. I called on them to name the
products. They named an augmentative communication device, braille printer,
low-vision product, TDD, alternative keyboards, voice-recognition software, eye
gaze technology, electronic pointing devices, joysticks and touch screens. I
mentioned these products in my presentation.
In my remarks, I defined assistive
technology and mentioned products that benefit people with vision, speech,
hearing, touch, mobility and intellectual challenges.
I gave examples of how these products are
used, and I told the audience that when they left, they should take with them
- Assistive technology products break down barriers that
historically prevented people with disabilities from having access to
information they needed to be educated and employed.
- AT products equalize opportunities for people with
- The AT products on the market allow even the most
severely disabled person to work today.
- Companies such as Microsoft, Google and Apple are
incorporating accessible features into their products.
When I finished speaking, I started
answering questions. Some of them were:
- When can I learn more about these products?
- Who is a leader in developing these products?
- Are there any national conferences where these
products are exhibited?
- Is there a disability that outnumbers all the others?
- What is the fastest rising disability in the
- Are there any tax breaks for buying this
I answered their questions and closed by
saying: With this technology, people with disabilities are able to
compete with people who do not have a disability. We are enabled.
Farraday allowed the questions to go on
an additional 10 minutes. Later, I learned that he has a teenage daughter with
a neuromuscular disease.
I must have been a hit because 66 people
left their business cards with me.
Fourteen people sent me emails
congratulating me on my speech and on being a resource. And three attendees
contacted me by telephone and asked to meet me at a later date. (I accepted
Afterward, Farraday told me, With
what I learned today, I know assistive technology products are real
John M. Williams specializes in writing about
disability issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.