1998 Conference Proceedings

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Brenda Premo, 1998 Keynote Address

Brenda Premo:
Good morning, and thank you Harry.
The first thing I did when I walked into this huge room and heard the people coming in -- I noticed that when I was in school if you were tardy you had the punishment of sitting in the front row. I always had to sit in the front row, I never could figure this out, I don't know why that was true. I couldn't read the board anyway.

Today, Harry asked me to talk about the future of technology. In deference to our friends doing the real-time captioning, I won't speak in my normal speed unless they want to do the fastest typing over the internet. I will be more careful to be aware of a sign language interpreter and a real-time captioner that has to do the speed.

When Harry asked me to speak of the future, I found things very clear. One is that we will have technology. From the simplest to the most complex. It affects all aspects of our lives, all of us. All of us depend on technology to conduct activities of daily living. From pencils, radios, to space ships, and telephones, just to name a few of the technologies we consider to be very important parts of our daily living. Technology has increased the productivity of most persons in our society. It has allowed us to improve the quality of our lives and increase our individual and social productivity.

Assisted technology is a kind of technology that allows persons with disabilities to be able to conduct business and to do things. For most of us, technology means to improve what we do. It can mean we increase our ability to do something. We might be able to do it faster.

With persons with disabilities, it may mean the difference of doing a thing and not doing a thing. Sometimes it's the difference between living and dying.

Assisted technology is designed to help persons with disabilities to do things that would not be possible without some type of accommodation. Assisted technology can be as simple as a magnifier or a scope, the little thing hanging around my neck, or as complex as an environmental home system that allows a person to control their home from a centralized computer system by voice.

Assisted technology can support individuals with disabilities to conduct activities of daily living, obtain education and be employed.

How we humans will provide that technology? Technology is a tool. It's neither moral nor immoral, good or evil. It's the policy and how we implement that policy regarding technology in the public and private sector that determine how we apply it.

In my experience, policy is created based on preexisting biases which are enforced in law, procedure, practice, and attitude. One of the major fallacies in the development of policy is the preconception that a particular characteristic can determine the behavior and potential of the class of individuals based solely on that one characteristic. In action and word, we establish a set of expectations that are imposed, based on being a welfare mother, a person that's blind, using a wheel chair, or being from another country, just to name a few. Expectations are established about how individuals with a specific characteristic will behave.

For example, Social Security benefits were created on the assumption that individuals who had the characteristics identified with disabilities could not work. Policy makers believed, and honorably so, that if you were disabled you would have to be taken care of by the government. You would need care. If you were not disabled, you would work.

Outcomes of this assumption were the development of policies which became dis-incentives for persons with disabilities to work. As a result, most people with disabilities who are on social security or on social security disability don't go to work. Or is it because the policy and the way in which we implement it makes it difficult for persons with disabilities to go to work? It's a question we need to think about.

We need to take that question to the development of how we look at technology and implement it. Think about it for a moment. If you remember the floods and earthquakes -- harry remembers the earthquake, it's a personal thing for harry. His office is a moving experience, one year it was almost too moving. During that time there were a lot of people that became, shall we say, housing impaired, car impaired, transportation impaired, who were not disabled. Put yourself in that position permanently. Imagine if we were told we had to give up our medical care, transportation, and our safety net of supports, just to go to work, would we? Think about ourselves during that time of crisis, we didn't think about our 8 to 5 jobs. We thought of our families and homes.

For many people with severe disabilities those are the daily thoughts before we can get to the idea of being independent, working in the community, and utilizing the resources that we have.

One of the preconceptions regarding the class of people with disabilities, it that the government and charities must expend dollars to care for us. The underlying assumption is the class of individuals with disabilities will be unable to care for themselves.

When I was at Pepperdine university, studying for my masters in business, I learned that expense was an expenditure of dollars that we didn't expect a return on. We went and bought a microwave and didn't expect it to make money for us. However, I learned that an investment came with an expectation of putting the funds in a place where we not only get back the principle, but interest.

To create a future we can help direct, we create the future and we direct it's outcome. To insure that technology is accessible to everyone, we need to look at the basis of the policies that I have described. We need to determine and believe that people become what they are based upon, the multiple tools or characteristics they possess.

We need to stop thinking about expenses. This is where the technology is very important and where the future of technology will go. We need to think about investing in the services, technologies, and programs. We need to insure those persons in our population who happen to have a characteristic called a disability can become productive.

We must be begin with the premise that a single characteristic can define an individual. That each individual must be allowed to meet their full potential based on all the tools that we all provide.

I am a person who is legally blind, that is a fact. I'm a person that can not stand in the sun very long, that's also a fact. I'm also a person who is spelling impaired, that's a fact. However I’m also director of a $33 million program. I am a child of an aging parent, I am the graduate of a masters program, and I’ve been appointed by both a president and a governor.

Each of those represent things I have done as a result of the characteristics I have. Yes, a thing that's called blindness affects me. I use technology to enhance that. The speech I’m reading to you today was written through naturally speaking.

The future of technology can be wonderful. I was talking to a friend on the phone yesterday who was reading to me, over the phone, several statistics. One of those is by a certain year, I don't remember because of my also becoming older. One of the characteristics that I heard that stuck in my mind was early in the 21st century, 80% of our society will have access to the internet. The question is: who are the 20% that don't? How will the decisions be made? Will it be those that don't have access because of education and because of knowledge?

In the 21st century, our ability to compete will be determined by our access to knowledge. Which will be through the internet, computer and distance learning. If access isn't there for persons with disabilities, we won't have the ability to compete. Not because of our disabilities, but because of the lack of access to the information that allows us to have the power to be competitive.

Our society can no longer throw away paper, aluminum and people because we don't think they are productive. We must look at creative strategies to enhance those individuals and those products of capacities so that we can be competitive on a national and an international level. One of those resources is the technology we need, both the simplest and most complex, to be able to compete.

My crystal ball, although it's a little foggy, is very optimistic about the future. I was talking to a friend, I have a deaf employee, the first deaf person that's moved that high within the department. He was promoted because of his skill, his ability and talents.

One of the issues we have is I’m a blind director and he's a deaf director, and I’m signing impaired as well. I sign like I see, which means it's blurry. Although he's very good, and he speaks because he lost his hearing a little later in life, around ten, -- it's a challenge but we get through it.

Our communication is more important than those barriers. However I was using naturally speaking. I thought this is great, I can talk into the computer and it's in big print and he can read it, and he can talk to me. For a little over two hundred dollars, I have an accommodation that can help us communicate.

As the technology improves, it's amazing to me already. It spells better than I do. It's a smart computer. As it improves, the relay service for the deaf can use it so a person in the future can speak into the phone using speech recognition, and there won't have to be a relay operator to interpret that. That's an interim step, absolutely.

Eventually I will talk and it will be text. One day I will turn on my computer and say good morning and the computer will respond to me, and we will interact in the manner in which is the future. Technology will level the playing field for all of us, if all of us have access.

The future of technology will allow us as a society to increase the productivity for all citizens if we base them as individuals. There are three simple ways to improve the optimistic outlook of my crystal ball happenings. First, is we design access into technology at the design phase. Engineers put together standards and specifications by which they design a product. One of the elements which should be, no, must be included, is whether that equipment is accessible to people with physical and sensory disabilities. Not merely because it's the right thing, but an economic necessity to do.

Number two, products should be designed with the customer involved. I was in an interesting meeting, we were talking about children's seats and seat belts. I don't know if any of you have experienced this. If your height is below 4 foot 5 then you worry about choking to death if the car stops suddenly. I believe a nice engineer about 6 foot 3 designed the seat belts. He forgot to ask shorter people where their neck was when he designed them.

The first time I got into a car, I’ll never forget this. Being blind causes surprises in your life. I got into a car in the early 80's. Nobody said anything. My friends liked to be entertained by my reactions. I got in the front seat and all of a sudden, the seat belt jumped out and hit me, -- came forward. I was shocked. Fortunately I’m a little taller then 4 foot 3 so it didn't hit me in the throat.

If customers were involved in the design phase of technology, this includes customers with disabilities, we would have the elements we needed to insure those pieces of technology, whether simple or complex, could be used by us to be productive for us. And the third thing is that we are able to find ways to adapt that technology so that it becomes part of the mainstream.

When I was very young, I was in college, this was only minutes ago, I noticed that people thought a lot about curbs, very simple technology. Because for a while that was only for those who used wheel chairs. Now, I notice mothers with strollers, and people with carts and rolling luggage. You know we are responsible for the convenience of rolling luggage, because of curb cuts. Now nobody thinks about it. Because it is an asset to the full community.

Naturally speaking is a product that now costs less than six hundred dollars. When it was created, it cost in excess of five thousand dollars. It was only purchased for those persons with the most severe disabilities.

Today, those who are lawyers, court reporters, doctors, thank god, because of their handwriting, will use naturally speaking with adaptive dictionaries because it's an asset to their work. It began because of us, and because of research of what we needed. It ended up being part of the mainstream. Many technologies that begin because of people with disabilities or the other way around, become part of the world of disability, they become part of the society.

If we begin to rethink how we create our policy, and implement it in a way that says "we can not afford not to insure that we invest, not expend our dollars." If we begin to look at each person's ability to provide or contribute, then we will be able to insure that that number of 80% will increase within the 21st century.

We can not afford to throw away a segment, any segment of our society, because of a set of values or single set of characteristics. We need to begin to look at how we can enhance each person's ability. Forgive me for those that have heard this before, I believe it's an example of how important perception is in decision making and policy making.

Before I tell this story, I want to congratulate Microsoft for beginning to work with issues around the graphic interface. I know there's a lot of money in Microsoft, I also know Microsoft has successfully been able to overcome barriers. If I was them, I wouldn't fight with the blind. I know better. I'd just give up.

Brenda: I have never seen anything that the organized blind didn't want and didn't get so, just do it. I'm the director of rehab, I know. When I was several minutes younger, I helped to begin an agency called the bell Macintosh center, nonprofit. We decide how to educate, educate means in the nonprofit lingual, to get money. In case you are confused by education.

When I was the director of rehab, we wanted to educate the director of rehabilitation of the constituents in our community. To say, we wanted more money. We decided to go to Sacramento, which I had never been to at that point, to be able to tell or educate the director. We selected two other board members to go there. One of our board members was a wheelchair user. He went out of LAX. because at that time they named orange county airport "John Wayne" because you had to be rugged to use it.

So, he went out of lax and my other board member and... The lady turned to the doctor and began to talk. I said, "slow down, the doctor is deaf, I need to sign." She said "why don't you drive the car, I said, "well I’m blind."

She was a little nervous and asked about insurance. So, I said, I signed to Gino who could read my worry in sign language. He went off to get the car.

We were still going through the paper work and she asked me if I wanted to be on the driving part. I said, "no." So, we got done with our work on the paper work. We said "we haven't been to Sacramento before, we needed a map." She gives me a map and says "how are you going to tell him where he's going." I said, "that's easy my friend here, George, has 20/20 vision and he'll read the map, and I’ll sign it into the rear view mirror."

So we took off, I’m sure you all wanted to be in the same car with us. So, we took off, necessity is the mother of invention, remember that. We got to Sacramento, the only problem we had is one way streets, I would say turn that way and he would see the cars coming at him.

To educate the director of rehab -- he had an iron lung. He was from the conservative area of Berkeley and I was from the liberal area of orange. We had a lot to talk about. We talked for two hours. We got done with our conversation and got to the airport.

The first lady was still there and the second lady was about where harry is and the first lady said, "I told you they are real." I smiled at Gino and said, "I’m blind not deaf." He said, "that's okay, they always put papers in my face anyway." It was confusion of what sensory ability we are dealing with.

So we went up and we began to turn in the paper work and make sure the car was in one piece.They were worried about that. She said, "I have to ask you a question, she said, how do you know the plane is taking off?" I'm going to write a book. I said, "well that's easy." The doctor can see the TV. At that time the screens were way up and I didn't have one of these. I said, "I can hear the loud speaker. By the way, we both drink, where's the bar?"

I tell that story to talk about an example of the difference of an actual outcome that happens based on perception. That lady, bless her heart, saw three people. One who couldn't walk, one who couldn't see, and one who couldn't hear. From those characteristics, she decided we couldn't do anything else.

We saw an opportunity and a desired outcome. As an organization, a corporation, we set a goal and put together a work plan. We designed and decided on what resources we needed. We needed someone who knew mobility and impairment issues, we needed someone that knew about visual impairments, deafness and communication and someone who -- if we take our perception of the situation and we apply it to technology.

There will be a time where deafness won't be a disability for the purposes of the telephone, and blindness won't be a disability for the purposes of using the computer. We will resolve the issues of the graphic interface, the relay service, and the mobility issues for persons using chairs or other aids.

Because we will believe the investment is worth it. Harry's conference is a key part of that. He bridges the gap. Not only between those of us with impediments that need technology, but among countries where there's a common thread of identity among and between those of us with disabilities and what we need to be productive in our culture and our world. For that, I want to publicly commend him. Thank you very much, harry, and thank you.

We would like to thank Brenda and give her a moment of our appreciation, recognizing her as keynote speaker today. This is heavy, we will mail it if you would like.

I have two brief announcements. Our keynote speaker next year, 1999, will be Ted Kennedy jr. You may recall as the age of 12 or 13, he lost a leg to bone cancer. He went on to create a nonprofit organization dealing with disabilities and issues in the state of Connecticut. He got a law degree last year and works with disability and environmental issues.

As we were trying to negotiate with him and nail this down, so we can announce it now a year in advance, his wife was having their second child. She's a physician at Yale. So he's a duo daddy. I will be meeting with him in Connecticut between now and then. Telling him more about this conference and the things that we do, and Ted Kennedy jr. Will be with us in March of 1999.

If you are one of the few people left in the world that have not seen Titanic, because it's neither captioned nor in descriptive audio, About 20 miles from here in Sherman oaks in the San Fernando valley, Titanic is captioned and in descriptive audio at general cinema in Sherman oaks. I will tell you also it will be on the tape. I told you the Marriott is 8065. The Hilton is 6282. It will be at general cinema theater on Van Nuys Boulevard in Sherman oaks. The phone number is 818-986-3078. I will do it again: I see Jenny reaching for a pencil here, okay (818) 986-3078. Admission is $7.50.

Thanks to Larry Goldberg and motion picture access program for this information (818) 986-3078. Titanic in Sherman Oaks.

Now, I need your help. We have to miraculously turn this space into an exhibit...

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