Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

From the Editors of the ITD Twentieth Anniversary Issue

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

From the Editors of the ITD Twentieth Anniversary Issue

Article excerpt

Twenty years ago, Norm Coombs and colleagues from Project EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) established a free online e-journal that has informed, inspired, and captured the ever-evolving state of the assistive technology (AT) and information technology (IT) accessibility fields. This special issue of the Information Technology and Disabilities (ITD) Journal celebrates its impact over two decades. It features articles from a dozen pioneers in the field, most of whom have published articles in past issues of the ITD Journal. Authors share their stories about how assistive technology and accessible IT have evolved over the years and what new challenges and hopes they envision for the future.

In the paragraphs below, the editors each share their journeys in this field and then introduce the authors and the stories they share in this 20th anniversary issue of the ITD Journal.

Sheryl's Journey

My journey in the field of assistive technology began more than 20 years ago. In 1982, I hired an engineering student at Saint Martin's College--where I taught mathematics, computer programming, and computer applications in education--to modify an Apple II computer with a switch box to lock the shift, control, and repeat keys. It needed to be designed in such a way that a 6-year-old boy, Rodney, could operate the switch box, and therefore all of the functions of the computer, with his mouth wand. Passing through a chain of education technology leaders at the time, I found Gregg Vanderheiden and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, who mailed me a hand-drawn picture showing how to build an external switch box. Included in this article is a picture of me with Rodney, who is operating the computer using his mouth wand, the computer keyboard, and the switch box.

I learned about Rodney several weeks before meeting him from his special education teacher, who was teaching him to type on an electric typewriter. She wondered if I thought he could operate a computer. I invited her, Rodney, and his family to come to the Microcomputer Resource Center we had created at the college. When she shared with me a copy of the first letter Rodney wrote on the typewriter, I knew this young man was someone I wanted to get to know. In part, he said,

May 3. 1982,

Dear President Reagan,

I want to tell you my name. My name is Rodney and I Am 6 years old ... I am handicapped bebecause I can't use my legs or my hands because I have little muscles and dbones.

I go to Skyline Exceptional School ... I get to learn to type with my special mouth wand. Someday I will get to use a computer because I am smart even tho handicapped.

This is my first letter L typed. I Worked hard typing. TThank you for being nice ...


So, Rodney and I embarked on our own little journey, exploring how technology could enhance his performance in school and his life overall. Back then, we did not imagine that by today there would be thousands of commercially-available AT products, let alone the many features that benefit individuals with disabilities that are integrated into IT products. Word about Rodney spread, and St. Martins became a magnet for those exploring computer access issues for individuals with disabilities. I recruited any experts I could find to teach Saturday workshops on computer use by students with physical disabilities, visual impairments, and learning disabilities. Because of these experiences, when I was hired to lead the new Microcomputer Support Group (MSG) at the University of Washington (UW) in 1984, I immediately added making IT accessible to faculty, students, and staff with disabilities to the MSG mission statement.

I teamed up with the founders of Project EASI when it began in 1989 as a special interest group of the EDUCOM conference and professional organization of postsecondary IT leaders. Daniel Hilton-Chalfen became chair in 1990; we recruited Norm Coombs to be the next chair of EASI, and the rest is history. …

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