Guest Blog

Technology At Its Finest

16 Jul 2020 by Hope Johnson

It is amazing how advances in technology can affect the trajectory of a person's life.  Not only can I attest to that fact, but I can also say that modern technology contributed to society's perception of me as a whole. 

I have been introduced to the latest communication technology through family members or therapists.

I was born without the ability to walk.  I have always used a powered wheelchair, which I drive with my right foot, affording me the freedom to go wherever I please.  Without this tool, I would not have the ability to be as independent as I am, which allows me to play a significant role in society. I am also a non-verbal person, and as far back as I can remember, I have always been introduced to the latest technology, whether through family members or therapists.

The first piece of equipment therapists thought I could use was the Touch Talker.  This device used both picture icons and letters, and I could speak messages when I finished programming the Touch Talker.  A cap on my head with a stylus pressed buttons to operate this machine. As time passed, I switched to a Light Talker, almost exactly like the Touch Talker, but operated with a "laser beam" light also attached to my head.  This allowed me to communicate with teachers and peers while in school, expressing my thoughts.  I was pleased to be "just one of the kids in the crowd."   While I was happy to communicate, the process was physically fatiguing and time-consuming.  

After a few years, I updated to a Liberator, a speaking computer.  By this time, I was using the joystick on my wheelchair foot pedal to access my device.  As I grew older, I was able to shop, which gave me a great sense of accomplishment.  Fortunately, store employees readily adapted to my communication style and were very willing to accommodate me. All computer entry was completed using my devices, the hardest and most tedious part of using my Liberator.  Using this device allowed me access to the computer to complete school and homework.  It would take hours or even days to complete a lengthy assignment with one toe.

            As a young girl, I found freedom in expressing myself.   When I grew older, I found it hard, though, to have long, meaningful conversations with my Liberator because of the time it took to plan my words.  This caused me a lot of frustration, especially as a teenager.  The thing that had given me so much pleasure had become a burden. Although it was painstaking to program, the Liberator enabled me to pre-compose long speeches.  With only a click of a button, I could "speak" to my audience, making it possible for me to express my thoughts vocally.  This made me less dependent on those who "spoke" at my behest.  

Communication devices helped to shape society's view of me.

From my perspective, communication devices helped to shape society's view of me.  Not responding instantly to a comment or question seemed to automatically mean that I had nothing to say, or that I was disinterested in a conversation.  Unfortunately, this continued through my first stint of college, using a Pathfinder (again, something akin to the Liberator.)

It gave me pleasure to be able to do things on my own.  I can't wait to see what will come next!.

Away from home, I found the same difficulties when using the Pathfinder, but now I depended on this device to direct attendants in my care.  The time to "speak" my thoughts took a lot of time, which the attendants were unwilling to take—an unfortunate situation and I returned home. My degree work was completed at Messiah College and a communication board held by my feet conveyed my needs and thoughts to attendants and professors.  I was able to complete all of my assignments by typing on an enlarged keyboard using a specialized mouse.  To this day, my Toe is an integral access point for all of my devices! I also had an electronic door opener on my foot pedal, so I had complete access to all of the buildings on Messiah College's campus, including both the doors to my dormitory and my own dorm room.  It gave me so much pleasure that I was able to do this on my own.  

Technology is absolutely essential in my life, and I can't wait to see what will come next!

Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth, Hope Johnson is an honors graduate of Messiah College in English and a freelance writer.  Hope writes to promote general awareness about issues facing the disability community. Her mantra is that anything is possible with persistence, determination, and above all, hope.