Normally, I write about technical aspects and various applications of assistive technology, and the positive effects on the business and disability community. Since I want to give a complete detail of those effects, I would be remiss if I didn’t include how assistive technology impacts the humans who use it and a concrete example of why it is so important.
During the course of my research into various types of tools and assistive technology, I met a young soldier, who agreed to talk with me*.
Below is that unforgettable conversation.
Dee: “Hi Alex, thanks for talking with me today. I am researching how individuals use assistive readers and other technologies to help them in their daily lives. Can you share with me what assistive technology you use and how you came to use it?”
Alex: “Right now I use J.A.W.S. I do have partial sight, but sometimes it can get dicey when I try to read too small text. I’ve used other screen readers too when I was going to school, after I got home. Took some getting used to, but I use it everyday now – I was not born with a disability – so I had to get the hang of it.”
Dee: “After you got home from where?”
Alex: “My unit was deployed to Iraq shortly after the war broke out.”
Dee: “Do you feel comfortable telling me what happened? “
Alex: “I am getting better now- it’s difficult sometimes but it’s getting better.”
Dee: “Understood. If at any time you don’t feel comfortable we can stop at any time, just say the word.”
Alex “I’m not sure where to begin.”
Dee: “Take your time…”
Alex: “I joined the military to save up for school, thinking when I got out then it I could use that, you know?”
Dee: (I nod) “GI Bill is very helpful with continued education.”
Alex: “I was deployed to Iraq with my unit, we were out on patrol-at first things were pretty quiet. I was operating a tank. This is where things get hazy. Then I remember an explosion, feeling like I was burning, and then I woke up in the hospital. It’s still kind of blurry. When everything started making sense again-hindsight I think it is called-the way we were hit-I lost hearing in my left ear all together and was blinded in my left eye. It happened about 6 years ago now. But at least I made it back home which I am very thankful for. I’ve had a couple reconstructive surgeries and I did finish school. I am still being treated for PTSD, and still have nightmares sometimes, but like I said-its getting a little better. The first couple years were really tough-I wanted to get back to my life you know? I did physical therapy for awhile and it was there that I learned about some technology that could help. (Assistive technology) Without it, sometimes things got so frustrating I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. (Get thru school) I am learning more and more every day, and it’s been very helpful in my job (he now works in a federal office.) “
Dee: “I know how hard that was to share- thank you for being so candid and thank you for your service.”
Alex: “Just doing my job ma’am.”
Dee: “Alex, you are truly inspiring.”
And with a shy wave, he left to go to his appointment.
In Alex’s case, without the use of assistive technology, like J.A.W.S, he may not have the opportunity to work in the position he’s currently in with the federal office.
If employers aren’t willing to consider these accommodations, they will miss out on incredible, hardworking employees like Alex. Through the use of assistive technology, being employable has provided Alex with a new sense of purpose and I’m confident in saying that his employer is also benefiting by his will and determination to perform.
While it is easy to get caught up in the technological aspects of 508 compliance – the tagging, the captioning, the imagery, don’t ever forget the reason it’s necessary. I know for certain this author never will.
Article written by: Dee Moradi, 508 Remediation Specialist
*For the purposes of this article, I have changed names and purposefully left out location details to protect privacy. This is also written with condensed excerpts of the full interview.