Every year, on December 3, people all over the world come together at various events to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This international celebration of difference and understanding was established in 1992 by the United Nations, and seeks to encourage those worldwide to consider new perspectives in order to fully promote inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of our social, cultural, and economic spheres. Each year the theme is different and highlights a new and important topic – this year’s theme was “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.”
Over the summer of 2014, many individuals that receive support through Creative Options Regina (COR) had the opportunity to take a 6-week course through the Regina and District Association for Community Living called “Let’s Connect – Sharing your Awesome with an iPad.” The individuals who attended learned all about how to utilize the wonderful world of technology and expand their ability to communicate and deepen their sense of community through the use of an iPad. At the end of the course they got to take their iPad home and make it unique to their own needs and interests. Many individuals now connect through iMessages, e-mails, FaceTime, Facebook and other social media platforms; many utilize their camera feature to take and share photos of their family, friends, activities, and favorite things; many utilize speech applications or other assistive or educational tools; and of course all of the fun stuff such as YouTube, games and silly apps! The list of ways in which these individuals use their iPads to expand their world goes on and on, and it has been truly incredible to see.
In September 2014, two UofR Kinesiology and Health Studies students, Megan Barss and Leah Fiorante, were given the task of creating an event that brings awareness to IDPD as a requirement for one of their classes. Megan and Leah had heard about “Let’s Connect” and watched the videos that Strategy Lab created to broadcast what the course was all about. Megan and Leah thought it would be great to do a follow-up video of how “Let’s Connect” and technology in general has aided in improving accessibility, community, and connection for those within COR who now utilize their iPads frequently. Over the course of a few months, and many meetings and correspondence, “Tech Talks” was brought to life.
“Tech Talks” was held at the Science Centre on December 2nd 2014. There were approximately 50 people in attendance, all of different abilities, ages, and backgrounds. “Tech Talks” began with some appetizers and wine, and as people began to socialize the room grew with excitement and interest. The first speaker of the evening was Jeph Maystruck, who works at Strategy Lab and is involved with many other initiatives across Regina. Jeph spoke about how technology is influencing our society as a whole, and he captivated the audience with his discussion around never saying something is “impossible” and continually seeking new opportunities and potential for growth. It also doesn’t hurt that Jeph gave out lottery tickets to the audience members who answered his questions – he expanded our minds and our wallets! Jeph began the evening by instilling a sense of hope and inspiration in the audience, which laid the foundation for an evening that was all about capabilities and reaching goals never thought possible with the help of technology.
The second speaker of the evening was Kevan McBeth, who has been an advocate for people with disabilities for over 11 years, which began after the birth of his daughter Lauryn who was born with Down Syndrome. Kevan spoke about how important technology can be for those with disabilities, and in particular the ways in which technology has allowed his daughter Lauryn to grow and learn in a way that is unique and appropriate to her individual needs. Kevan spoke about many apps that can be downloaded to assist with spelling, math, or writing, as well as features such as Siri, which acts not only as a companion for many, but also encourages people to annunciate and speak fluently in order to have their commands understood. Skills such as this are transferrable to real life situations and are taught through the apps in a way that is patient, understanding, and at a pace that is appropriate to the individual. Kevan shared many stories of how technology has allowed individuals, and in particular his family and his daughter, to connect and communicate on a new level, which most often has a positive impact on the persons overall quality of life.
The third speaker was Stacey Laing, who is the coordinator of the “Let’s Connect” program at RDACL. Stacey shared with the audience the ways in which she has seen people grow and flourish as a result of utilizing their iPads. Stacey shared many inspirational stories about individuals who now get their needs met by taking photos of groceries and other items they want and then sending these pictures to their supports; individuals who now connect with old friends, supports or family who they had previously lost touch with; individuals who have never had a meaningful item all to themselves and who now find such pride and joy in using their iPad; and many more amazing stories of success and growth. Stacey stated that “Let’s Connect” is expanding and many other organizations within the province are receiving training on the course and are now rolling out the program in their own districts. Upon conclusion of Stacey’s discussion, the follow-up video of the “Let’s Connect” course that was created specifically for IDPD was shown – it can be viewed here:
After the video was shown, I, Kasey, invited up 4 individuals from COR who had participated in the “Let’s Connect” program to share their own stories of the ways technology has impacted their lives. First, Erin joined me on stage and discussed how she utilizes her iPad for school and connecting with friends and supports. Next, Patrick came on stage and discussed how he uses his iPad to connect with friends over various social media platforms, as well as how he utilizes apps such as the Weather Network to help plan his day accordingly. He also discussed his hope to eventually use a transit app to aid in planning his transportation around the city. Next, Ruby came on stage and shared her love for YouTube and watching craft videos. Ruby even brought a wooden crossbow that she made by watching an instructional video – but don’t worry, nobody was hurt during the display of the crossbow… it was made out of wooden sticks and rubber bands! Last but not least, Andrew joined me on stage and spoke to the audience about how he loves to use the calculator app to figure out the exact hours, minutes, seconds, and milliseconds that a person has been alive – he is very creative with the use of his iPad! All 4 of these individuals use their iPads in different ways that are special to their own interests and needs, and it was great to hear from them about how technology has improved their ability to communicate and connect.
After Erin, Patrick, Ruby and Andrew shared their stories, Tech Talks came to a close. Many people stayed after to mingle, ask questions, and network. There was a buzz in their air that is difficult to describe… It felt as though there was a common feeling of hope and inspiration in the room. I feel that “Tech Talks” encouraged those in attendance to strive to consistently challenge their ideas of what people with disabilities are capable of and to always see the ability in others in order to continually provide opportunities for inclusion and growth for those with disabilities in all spheres of our communities. We can all utilize the brilliant world of technology to help bring to life each individuals unique and valuable strengths, to help formulate and accomplish individual goals and understand and appreciate everyone’s abilities and desire to be included and contribute to our communities in a meaningful way. Technology has shaped our world in ways that were never thought possible. Technology has allowed for us to uncover medical and scientific discoveries that have never been explored before, to travel to unknown depths and spaces to find new species and cultures, to share ideas and spark movements with people across the world that shape our social and political realms each day… It is time that we fully include the population of individuals with diverse abilities into this wonderful world of technology. The world as we know it can be shaped and inspired by the unique and valuable perspectives of those with disabilities, all of which can happen at the simple touch of a screen.
Kasey, COR Support