2000 Conference Proceedings

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The Pittsburgh Employment Conference: A Forum for Augmented Communicators

Randy E. Horton

The Pittsburg Employment Conference, held every year in August is the major conference for people with disabilities who use assistive technology to communicate. Over 70 people, from all over the world, who rely on technology to communicate, attend this conference. I attended my first PEC meeting in August of 1999, two months after I got my current communication device. I arranged to have the highlights of the conference videotaped. I would like to show you my experiences.

The focus of the conference this year was "Employment and Adult Life: Influencing the Future". I was surprised to find out during lunch on Friday that they had put my name on a panel at 3:30 that afternoon. I quickly prepared some comments on the panel topic, "What kind of research would make it easier for me to obtain employment?". I stored my comments in a notebook on my device, so that I could speak them at a conversational rate, using the speech output, by hitting a single key, each time I wanted to say the next sentence. I said:

What kind of research would help me obtain employment? Research to educate employers about the kinds of support we need, both physical and cognitive. Written information detailing reasonable accommodations for specific people like myself. (Lets see the first video segment)

One of the professionals told a friend of mine, "That was short, specific and to the point".

My wife, Kimberly, was also on this panel. She also has CP and is in a wheelchair, but she can talk. She has a career goal of working with assistive technology with people with disabilities. She said, "I feel that every person whether they can talk or not, should have the right to full expression of language, full education and the right to be fully employed, regardless of their disability". She emphasized that research should be with people with disabilities, not about people with disabilities, a central theme of the conference. Lets see video segment 2.

Two teenage girls really impressed me with their presentations. The first one describes how she got stuck with a device she doesn't like. She says that during the evaluation, the student must try the devices for more than 5 minutes. The second girl says, "Having a voice is one thing, using it is another". The speech output on her device is much less intelligible than my Liberator. Can I have video segment 3?

I want to show you the town meeting with more than 70 people using assistive technology. Can I have video 4? During this meeting, I said that we needed the professionals to keep working with us. By that, I meant:

The professionals need to be taught that it does not work to just give us a communication device and a few hours of teaching for us to become efficient communication device users. I had a device before this one that I never learned to use because I only received less than four hours of teaching. This time, with my Liberator, I asked for 48 hours of teaching. NLACRC funded my teaching hours. I believe I will be successful after one year of teaching. That's what it takes!!!

Finally, I put my two cents worth in from the audience on the topic of product development: "Can augmented communicators have a richer voice?". I said:
I have a suggestion. The vocabulary that comes with the communication devices is disrespectful because it does not contain words that we need to participate as full members of society. Words like: married, conference, access, cash, member, schedule and suggestion. You need our input. How can we set this up, now?
It was great to attend the Pittsburgh Employment Conference and meet with my peers who use AAC to communicate. It encouraged me to keep on working on learning the language, literacy and device use that will make me a proficient augmented communicator. I got my current communication device, a Liberator, on June 10, 1999. I have my full voice in the year 2000! The Pittsburgh Employment Conference was a great motivator! I urge you to attend. For more information about this conference, Email: SHOUT@ SGI.NET

Or write: SHOUT, P.O.Box 9666, Pittsburgh, PA. 15234

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