GDI Hub celebrate IDPD: Assistive Technology through COVID-19
International Day of Persons With Disabilities
Today on the 3rd December is "International Day of Persons With Disabilities" (IDPD). The annual day, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, serves to promote the rights of disabled people in all areas of life and well-being and increase global awareness about the key issues facing disabled people around the world.The 2021 theme is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world".
To mark this important date GDI Hub are celebrating by amplifying the voices of disabled people through a series of blogs.
Every person brings a unique perspective, an expert in their own experience. Each story, each voice, is an opportunity to change the narrative on disability, contributing to a collective call to action to make disability rights a reality.
Happy #IDPD 2021
Assistive Technology through COVID-19
Assistive Technology greatly empowers you to take control of important aspects of your life.
When I became a wheelchair user at the age of 15 due to a virus that attacked my spinal-cord, I soon realised that although I would be reliant on Assistive Technology I was not very confident about using it. I was never really a computer whizz, but I accepted that if I wanted to further my education and realise my goals then I would have no option but to learn how such technology could help me. Over the years my experience of using Assistive Technology has been both interesting and frustrating but I now feel very comfortable with my current setup.
During my time in hospital, I started to visit The ACE Centre in Oldham where I met the CEO, Anna Reeves, who set me up with the voice recognition program, Dragon Dictate that allowed me to create my own documents. Initially it was not very efficient and sometimes very frustrating as it couldn't always understand what I was saying, but over the years this type of technology greatly improved. I managed to complete A-levels and a degree and I started working at Cheshire Police Headquarters using the assistive technology that is essential for me to carry out my work as a Vetting Officer. This work is very data intensive as I need to collate a lot of information from different Police databases and use a trackball mouse together with the latest version of Dragon Dictate, which is much better than the first version I used.
Assistive Technology has meant that I now have a real purpose in life and feel like any other person that is able to perform a job. Obviously, I need help with practical things such as retrieving documents from a printer, but I can perform the work on the computer myself and I'm really proud of that. I have been working there for 12 years and am still really enjoying it.
Just like the rest of the population, March 2020 meant a stop to normal life. I could not go into the office as I had to shield due to Covid. I never realised at that moment how life-saving my Assistive Technology equipment would be. A couple of years ago I went to the Naidex conference in Birmingham and discovered a device from a company called Glassouse, which look like a pair of glasses but is equipped with motion control sensors and Bluetooth connectivity that enables me to control the mouse on my MacBook just by moving my head and biting down on the mouthpiece to replicate a mouse click. This particular piece of equipment is amazing and has really transformed the way I use my computer.
So, lockdown started, and I was so worried about the fact that I could not see my friends and family. My parents both had Covid which meant that I was unable to see them for a whole month. I couldn’t see my sisters or friends and I know that I do not have to explain how hard that was as so many other people were in this awful situation. To help with keeping in touch, we decided to use the House Party app. This turned into a nightly occurrence at around 6.00pm where all of us would get together on the screen and talk about our days, even though we really didn't have any news to report! It was just so lovely to be able to see everyone and to be able to speak to them in private. This is all down to the fact that I was able to use my own equipment independently. It felt so special that I could have that time with my family on my own, without a personal assistant having to be present to help me. It really helped when I felt down that I was able to see the faces of my friends and family and chat with them without having to share my innermost thoughts with others. It's really hard when you can't do anything for yourself, but Assistive Technology greatly empowers you to take control of important aspects of your life. I was able to do my shopping online during the pandemic which made me appreciate choice and control so that I didn't have to ask people to pick things up for me when they were out. It was becoming quite funny that I was getting excited about food deliveries!
Communication is so important, and I think a lot of people have realised over the pandemic that technology is vital to help keep in touch. It's giving me so much independence to be able to have a laugh with my friends even though they are many miles away. In fact, I had a brilliant birthday this year as we were all taking part in a murder mystery party on Zoom. My friends live all over the world and we would ordinarily have never been all together at the same time, but technology enabled us to do this. Assistive technology has played a huge part in maintaining my mental health over the years and more than ever over the last 18 months. I can write my own WhatsApp and text messages and FaceTime people. I use an iPhone and which has some brilliant accessibility features incorporated into the latest version of iOS, such as Voice Control that allows me to control virtually every function of the phone using only my voice. It really has been transformative.
Assistive Technology has been essential for me over the past 22 years and I will never take it for granted. Everyone should have access to this kind of technology as it has played a huge part in helping me get on with my life, allowing me to reach the level of independence that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.
Views expressed in this blog, and references used, belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Global Disability Innovation Hub and its staff.