The First Student
I’ll call him Robert. Robert had been a high powered attorney in Connecticut until he threw it all in and moved to Maine. He bought quite a bit of property on a mountain in Maine and moved into a sort of shack. He lived in the shack while he built his house.
The house was essentially one room with a bedroom loft. He heated with wood.
Then he became blind.
Blindness is probably not something anybody plans on acquiring but Robert had a great attitude about his blindness. At the time I saw Robert I was teaching living skills but he was my first technology student. This was so long ago, in fact, that the specialty of assistive technology in the field of vision rehabilitation did not yet exist.
Robert wanted to write again. That was the reason I bought my first talking computer – so I could write again. In my case I purchased an Apple IIC. We provided Robert with an Apple IIE. When all the boxes arrived we loaded them in the car and headed for Robert’s house.
Accessibility Wasn’t Built-in
This was long before I could walk into an Apple Store and walk out with a talking phone. It was so long ago, in fact, that you had to have an external speech synthesizer to make an Apple product accessible. Streit Electronics made the synthesizer for my IIC. All I had to do was plug the thing in and turn it on. Then I had to boot-up with the floppy disc containing the speech software on it and the IIC started yammering away.
The IIE was different. I had to open up the machine and insert the speech synthesizer hardware, in this case a card, into a slot in the machine. Thank goodness Robert had the screwdriver I needed! But I knew none of this until I started taking things out of boxes.
Of Course There Were More Problems
So, before I did anything else, I called Streit Electronics. That presented a whole new set of problems.
Robert’s phone was all the way across the room and it was hard-wired. And it didn’t reach the table where I was setting up his computer. What ensued was a ballet of sorts. Streit would tell me what to do. I’d put down the phone, cross the room, and do whatever they told me to do. Then it was back to the phone for my next marching orders. “Okay, I think I’ve got it now,” I said as the long suffering Streit technician gave me my final instructions.
Type RUN And Hit Enter
The wire connected to the board I had just inserted in the computer ran out a slot in back of the machine. It was connected to the little speech synthesizer gadget that was perched on top of the computer. I wanted Robert to be the one to make his shiny new machine talk for the first time so I asked him to sit down before the computer. He located home row on the keyboard and said, “What do I do next.”
“Type R U N there and hit the Enter key.
Robert dutifully typed A R E Y O U I N T H E R E and hit the Enter key. Needless to say, nothing happened. It had not escaped my notice that Robert had hit a whole bunch of keys before whacking the Enter key. So I asked…
When we stopped laughing he keyed the correct sequence, hit Enter, and we were rewarded with “Echo is running.” That may not have been exactly what the gadget said but it could have spoken to us in Ukrainian and we would have been happy!
A Wild Ride
I taught assistive technology off and on for almost thirty years. I’ve “officially” been out of teaching for almost a decade but I sure grab any teachable moment that presents itself these days!
And it all started during a four hour lesson in a cabin in Maine.