Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Giving Voice – In her own “words”

The other day I was watching old-fashioned media (CNN on the TV) when I heard this story --Living with autism in a world made for others.

I'm always looking for ways that tools, including technology, can support the learning experiences of diverse learners so this story got my attention as well as questioned my assumptions.

It highlighted how Amanda Baggs,an adult with autism, is able to communicate using a computer or a voice synthesizer. She also produces videos and posts them on the Internet. In fact, it was one of her videos titled "My Language” on YouTube that caught the attention of CNN.

Amanda’s comments in the interview, “If they see me write they don’t think I’m autistic”. The reporter picked up on this and shared how interesting it felt talking to her online persona versus meeting to her in real life. A sample video of his face to face interview is available.

The story profiled how Amanda uses the Internet to interact and meet other liked-minded people. This includes going to Second Life, a online society within a 3D world, where users can explore, build, socialize, and participate in their own economy, where she has created her own animated avatar to interact in this virtual world – a world that frees her of the energy required to navigate the complexity of the real world where body language, action, and noise play a big role.

Janet Cole, the Executive Producer of the documentary Freedommachines recently shared, “technology has evolved to be an equalizing force, we have to step back and look at what is really disabled. If people have access to the tools that can enable them to participate fully and independently in education, work, and community, then "disability" is not about the people, but about the systems and infrastructures that are not delivering necessary services and tools.”

Amanda’s story certainly showed the power of how technology tools can open up communication -- for all people. Her story shows how our narrow definitions and expectations can sometimes limit students. The work in our schools by those involved in assistive technology and universal design to offer all students access to the general curriculum is based on inspiring stories like Amanda's.

I invite you to hear more from Amanda and question your assumptions.