A lot has happened in the past 25 years. It was August of 1988 when Diane and I started working with people who have disabilities. I was 30 years old. We had no idea how to do this, but we wanted to try. Twenty-five years later, we still love working with people who have disabilities. Here are the top five things I have learned over the years, in David Letterman style.
5) Collaborating isn’t the same thing as working with someone. Collaborating is hard work. People love the idea of it, but very few people – with a disability or not – are willing to pay the price of collaborating. It is filled with inefficiency, compromise, and dissatisfaction. And if you are faithful to it, you will accomplish more than you can imagine.
4) We know what we’re doing, we just don’t know how to do it. This is the mantra at my job. We are constantly doing something new, something that pushes what we think we know and can do, something that might be crazy. It is exciting – and difficult – to live in this place of uncertainty. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
3) Surround yourself with people who are better than you are. This is the best secret. I get a lot of credit just because I associate with people who are better than I am. Thanks to all of you who hold me up, especially Barret, Carolyn, David, Diane, Erik, and Jerry (in alphabetical order). The list is much longer than these people! I know it and I appreciate all of you very much.
2) Be generous. I know it sounds corny, and yes, we have had people take advantage of us. But the best things that have happened to me in the past 25 years have happened because I was willing to take a chance on someone. Most of the time this turns out positive. The few times it didn’t just made me more determined.
1) We are profoundly pro-life. This isn’t a political or moral statement. It is a realization that comes from working with children with profound disabilities, adults with spinal cord and brainstem injuries, people who are terminally ill, and people with dementia. The sacred is easily experienced in these people, who contribute more to humanity than I ever will as an engineer. Often they go unnoticed and unappreciated, but if you take the time to know these people, you will be changed for the better.
Below are a couple of pictures of my son Erik. On the left is a picture of Erik working(!) at the ripe old age of 7. He is explaining a new accessible toy to a kid at the Kistler Center and the two of them are excited! The picture on the right is Erik now, age 26, sitting at his desk working on software for people with disabilities.