My entire life I have been a huge uber-geek when it comes to computers and technology. Ever since I was 4 years old and got my very first Apple II computer, courtesy of the Make A Wish Foundation, I have been hooked. Not only have I always been interested in figuring out how various gadgets work and learning to program in as many languages as I can, but I also realized at a fairly young age that modern technology had something special to offer me due to my disability. It became obvious to me early on in my time tinkering with computers, and later on the internet, that in the virtual world of microprocessors and internet protocols my physical limitations were no longer a disadvantage that I had to overcome. For the first time in my life I was on a level playing field with the people around me, able-bodied and disabled people alike. I realized that learning as much as I could about programming, operating systems, and computers in general that I would be able to create an environment where I could operate on the same level as everyone else. Not only does technology level the playing field for me, but it also provides me with the tools to prevent my disability from limiting my world as my body gets weaker with time, which is something that I was reminded of during last year’s Holiday Season.
I have discussed in some of my earlier articles about how travelling long distances is difficult at best when you have a severe, physical disability, even if you are fortunate enough to have your own wheelchair accessible vehicle. One of the effects of not being able to make long trips is that I cannot go to visit my friends and family who live in other parts of the country. Whether it be visiting my old college roommate, attending my 10 year high school reunion, or going to one of my best friend’s wedding, unless it is less than a few hours drive from my apartment, I am probably not going to be able to make it. This could definitely make it difficult for me to maintain relationships and have a fulfilling social life, but thanks to the recent technology boom and my fascination with anything containing a microchip however, this is fortunately not the case. By taking advantage of some of the new features available on our phones, tablets, and the countless other “big kid toys” in our lives, I have been able to find alternative ways to keep my social and professional worlds from being restricted to the greater Kansas City area and maintain a very fulfilling social life.
While I have been aware of my use of technology in expanding my world for a long time now, during the Holidays last year this is something that was really brought to my attention. The Holidays are a time to be with friends and family, and since my loved ones are scattered all across the country, not being able to travel very far makes it difficult for me to share this festive time with some of the the most important people in my life, at least in person. Thanks to several different technological features that are now almost commonplace on most technological devices, I was able to share my Christmas celebration with all of the people who make my life so great. Touchscreen displays for example, which are pretty much a standard feature now, have helped those of us with weak muscles more use of technology, as they require far less pressure and range of motion than previous control options. Live video streaming, available free through programs like Skype and Google Hangout, allow disabled individuals who cannot travel the ability to still be present at any event nearly anywhere in the world, at least in a virtual sense. I was able to still share the Holidays with several of my old dorm brothers thanks to video chatting, despite the fact that they live hundreds of miles away. Even the recent advancement that allows anyone to purchase nearly anything without ever leaving their home has been a major improvement for people with disabilities. I was able to have wonderful gifts for my family, wrapped beautifully and waiting under my Christmas tree, without having to put my body through the physical toll of going out in the cold, subjecting myself to millions of new germs, and risking spending my Christmas in a hospital bed, thanks to the amazing service of websites like Amazon and Overstock.com.
I am so thankful that the various technology companies have inadvertently improved the lives of thousands of disabled people over the last several years. As they have worked to develop more and more new features before their competitors, they have also been giving new levels of freedom and independence to people with physical limitations. Although these companies will probably never realize it, and it will definitely not show up in their stock values or quarterly reports, organizations like Apple, Samsung, and Google have allowed people with severe, physical disabilities achieve goals and experience things that would have never been possible without the developments in technology that they have produced. These advances, which are so often thought of in terms of dollars and cents, to people like me are so much more than that. Being able to chat with one of my best friends about his new job and getting to be a part of my loved one’s Christmas festivities without ever leaving my home are things that are so special that I could never put a dollar value on them. These features have given me a happy, fulfilling life that I am so proud of, and that is something that is priceless.