Ring of Fire
Ann Cameron Williams, Ph.D.
Just last week, I attended the Coleman Institute’s Annual Conference on Cognitive Disabilities and Technology. Led by, inspired by, and driven by Dr. David Braddock, Ph.D., also Senior Associate Vice President of the University of Colorado System and seed funded (tremendous gift) by William and Claudia Coleman. This event has quietly grown over the past sixteen years to the not-to-be-missed event it is today. There were close to 700 people registered for the single day, no registration fee venue overlooking the Flatirons and winter. Many were turned away as capacity was reached early.
As I watched and listened and learned, it struck me that there was an underlying message that supported the conference proceedings. The this-and-that state-of-the-art technology options and solutions and policies and practices for people with cognitive disabilities are important, yes, and are the foreground of a more subtle and fundamental background movement. A social movement. I listened intently. The social movement that was playing was “Ensure that people with cognitive disabilities have the right to technology and information access.” The philosophy rumbles satisfyingly, like DNA-embedded memory of ancient drums beating around a ring of fire, with a cadenced futuristic context intoning on our own human survival. The universal hum originated from David Braddock himself, echoed and replicated by those who realize the implications of this social movement on our humanity. His humble demeanor and humility denies and will deny his part as the orchestra leader of the movement, this giant of an intellect and life-long advocate for people too often considered less than. But he started this ring of fire, and drew us all around it, one by one.
The question of “should people with cognitive disabilities use technology?” is the wrong question. Of course they should, just like you and me and the rest of the world that has access to information and technology. The right statement, for families, for the educational system, for providers, employers, and those with whom they interact in the community, is “Ensure that people with cognitive disabilities have the right to technology and information access.”
The movement is the fundamental premise that we need to adopt. It is about being. The doing follows.
It is about being – that is your philosophical framework of ensuring that people with cognitive disabilities have the right to technology and information access that propels you into doing. The doing follows. The days of people with cognitive disabilities without access to technology and information are over. Yes, it’s a social movement and yes, you are the leaders in the field and therefore have the responsibility of advancing this social movement to a practiced reality.
Get technology into their hands. Try. Test. Show and tell. Assume that competence will occur. Hand over hand support and yes, this might mean that you also need to learn the stuff. Remember the first time you test drove your own smart device? Give them space to practice and learn and make mistakes and process, just like you did when you first took up your own new way of doing things with technology. Talk about technology in every meeting and in every interaction with clients. Evolve your policies to chronically utilize technology for all, and make decisions with budgets and revenue generation strategies to pay for such things. Invest in a dedicated technology specialist that does nothing but infuse technology solutions into the organization and have them provide ongoing trainings for staff. Search and see what is online, on youtube, look for bright spots of interest and passion in the industry or from families. Smart homes, smart devices, they are out there and changing lives for those who are using them. Listen to the millennials and by the way, why don’t you put them in charge of this effort?
Soon, the lines will be blurred between us and them and we will be them as many of us will acquire our own cognitive disabilities due to age or circumstance. Would you want to be stripped of your right to access information and technology when this occurs? Dr. Braddock and his collaborating partners have taken the first Jeffersonian step to ensure that access to information and technology can be assumed for people with cognitive disabilities.
If you haven’t read and endorsed with your individual and corporate signature the Declaration of The Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access, do it now – and share this with all of your networks, including people with disabilities as there is a linguistically accessible version, too. Here’s the link.