Last weekend (8/4/2012) I got to go with Tom, Erik, and Jerry to the Abilities Expo in Houston. We spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday demonstrating products and talking to people interested in them. It was definitely an interesting experience.
I got to meet a lot of different people, from speech pathologists to people with cerebral palsy. This was interesting because I saw all kinds of disabilities. I’ve worked with people with spinal cord injuries or similar injuries, but I’ve never been around a deaf person or a person with cerebral palsy. It was a good learning experience to meet them and interact with them (it was probably a very rare learning experience too).
I also learned that every person is very unique. For example, we met a little girl who communicates using an iPad with her foot because she didn’t have good enough control of her hands. This definitely isn’t common and I would never think of it. Besides her, everyone I met was different in how they did things. This shows that every situation is unique and no two problems can be approached the same way. You can’t expect to make something that automatically works for everyone.
The hardest part of the expo was trying to explain the products. A lot of people were convinced that the head tracker was some sort of mind control! Even if they didn’t, they still had a hard time figuring out exactly what was going on. This is definitely understandable, but somewhat frustrating. Also frustrating was that most people only stayed for a few seconds. It’s kind of hard to explain and demonstrate all that a Laser Keyboard can do in a few seconds.
However, the people who did stay for a few minutes made it worthwhile. It was nice to see someone interested in what we’re doing. One lady stayed for around 2 hours and played solitaire using a head tracker. You could tell she was really enjoying it. There were also some therapists and speech pathologists that stopped by for a while. They were interesting to talk to because they were very dedicated and knowledgeable. It was apparent they really wanted the best for the people they help. Also, they’re good at pointing out shortcomings of current technologies and suggesting new ideas. From a development standpoint, this makes them very useful.
I enjoyed the expo a lot and learned and experienced many new things. I now know a lot more about assistive technology and the people it helps.