Born: June 30, 1953 - Pittsburgh, PA
Entry into the AT Field: September, 1980
How I got into the field
In 1980, I was hired as an educational consultant at a newly expanded statewide resource center in Ohio. Assistive technology awareness training and setting up an assistive technology loan bank were two of my first assignments. Prior to the resource center, I had been an elementary and preschool teacher of students with multiple disabilities. I have a Masters in Education with Visual Impairments and Developmental Disabilities as areas of emphasis.
Important event(s) that influenced my early decision to get into the assistive technology field
There were a series of events and people. First was Barry Romich, who visited our center and encouraged me to attend RESNA. At my first RESNA in Memphis, I attended a lecture by Gregg Vanderheiden, and became convinced that all educators needed to learn about the technology that was being developed that their students would soon be using. I was then influenced by Al Cook and the work that he was doing with communication.
Why I chose the AT field
I believed that educators should make a contribution to the field. I wanted educators to learn about the technology as it was being developed, and to learn how to influence its development. I wanted children with disabilities to have access to the technology and to its benefits. I wanted educators to possess the knowledge and skills to assist children with disabilities to learn and to grow, and technology was going to facilitate that.
My inspiration and mentor
There have been several people in the field of assistive technology who have inspired me. Barry Romich encouraged my involvement in not only RESNA, but also USSAAC and ISAAC. Barry's unwavering belief in the rights of all people and the need to advocate for people who sometimes cannot speak for themselves has been inspirational. We have been colleagues for many years. Gregg Vanderheiden did not realize his impact on me during that first RESNA, but he was very supportive of me throughout my leadership journey within RESNA. He gave me my first leadership role on the Meetings Committee with Don McNeil and supported me in every role after that, including my presidency. I am very grateful for his leadership. Al Cook has been my mentor for a long time. We share not only an interest in augmentative communication, but also systems change and leadership. Jean Minkel has shown me how to work within and without, always serving the greater good with a very high standard. It is a humbling experience to have been able to collaborate with these individuals.
Why the field is important to me and the central focus of my work
Assistive technology became a key component of the services that ORCLISH and then OCALI provided. During its 24 years, ORCLISH became established as the key leadership organization for assistive technology in Ohio for educators. That has been passed onto the new organization, OCALI. In collaboration with the Special Education Regional Resource Centers, these centers provided the training, information, and technology to parents and educators throughout Ohio.
My memorable successes and greatest contributions to the field
In Ohio, we created the Ohio Assistive Technology Distance Learning Project, which established over 30 online university-based courses in assistive technology. These courses became a core component of an online Masters Degree in Education from Bowling Green State University. We implemented many innovative training opportunities for Ohio's educators throughout the years, establishing relationships and partnerships with many of the AT leaders. We also received a 5-year training grant to improve the quality of Braille and Braille instruction in Ohio. This was built on some regional projects to provide Braille technology to school districts. We implemented a software literacy project with Don Johnston. In addition, IntelliTools was a major innovator on a project. We also worked within Ohio on several major funding initiatives. I am most proud of the relationships and the people who came together to make these things happen in Ohio. It was an incredible collaborative effort, with leadership provided by many. I am also very thankful to the RESNA Board of Directors during my Presidency.
We received a $9.4 M grant that provided assistive technology to almost 4000 students in Ohio. The process was based on best practices within the assistive technology field. In addition, through collaboration with the Assistive Technology Outcomes Measurement Systems project with the R2D2 Center at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, outcomes data was gathered. These projects were successful due to the hard work of many people.
My most memorable failures
Perhaps it may be that I don't consider that I've had memorable failures - I've had disappointments and frustrations, but I've always tried to figure out the next step to achieve the intended outcome.
Significant changes and advances in the field since I first entered it
There has been tremendous change in the technology itself as well as its availability. Universal design has played a role. Along with this abundance has come a change in the political, policy and funding landscapes. There are new players at our AT/RE table.
On the future of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology
For me, the availability of trained personnel and the technology has had significant impact on my work.
My role within RESNA and what it gave back to me
I was very fortunate to serve within RESNA in a formal capacity for 16 years, beginning with the Meetings Committee and progressing to become President in 2000. I've stuffed conference bags, led Town Hall meetings, sat in meetings into the wee hours, and shared a drink with many colleagues. Many of these individuals within RESNA have been speakers at Ohio training sessions. As a result of the partnerships, Ohio's children with disabilities have received more technology. I've learned and practiced many valuable leadership skills.
On the future of RESNA
Margaret Wheatley said, "There is no greater power than a community discovering what it cares about." RESNA's passion and survival must be based on its ability to focus. The future of RESNA should include organizational partnerships, professional development, credentialing, standards work, member services, legislative and regulatory activities, and a sound organizational infrastructure. RESNA must continue to maintain strong efforts toward achieving financial stability and vitality. Grow the organization with appropriate financial and human resource support.
My suggestions for those just entering the field
There are many ways to serve people with disabilities. Seek to kindle your flame within this field. Much can happen if leadership is provided in everyday situations. How you lead is not as important as your choice to act and the impact it will have on someone else's life.