Monday, April 13, 2009

A Cowboy Makes it Work with Assistive Technology

I shook the knarled, arthritic hands yesterday on an Easter afternoon visit, of a veteran cowboy, Dean, who has ridden for 15 brands and taught himself how to rope in spite of his disability.
"I reached the goals I wanted to reach in roping," Dean said.
"And what were those goals?" I asked. He shared that he had joined the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association) and competed in the Elgin Stampede - a regional rodeo in the snow-capped mountains of East Oregon.
"There I was, left-handed, trying to rope right-handed with my hands the way they were. It was my first competition and I had been practicing hard. I had to take pain medicine to rope but I was determined to do it. I entered with a friend in team roping and when it was all done that day-we won!"
He shared his frustrations with having fingers swollen and curled into knots and his inability to grip: "I went on the Internet to try and find someone who could tell me how to button up my jeans. I couldn't push the button through the hole. I spent a whole afternoon "Dancin' around on the Internet" I found handicapped tips, things about wheelchairs, etc. but nothing to help me get my pants buttoned, so I invented something myself."
When asked if he could show me what he made, he left the room and came back with two tools he had adapted. A flat head screwdriver he had heated in his shop and bent into a flat hooked tip, and a long piece of blue heavy wire bent in a "U".
"I just stick the wire loop through the hole, snag the button and pull one direction and then hook the eye-hole with the screwdriver hook and pull the two together."
I shared how ingeniously simple this was and how proud I was of him to make it work on his own.
"I just figure I need to learn how to do things myself. It might take me longer, but I have a great shop and I have all kinds of things I have adapted to pound nails, open my truck door and on and on."
As I left yesterday, I thought about this man's determination to self-accommodate. How I would love to have him share tools and talk about the whole frame of mind that comes with being able to solve problems and be independent. He is an example of what I strive to see for all our students as they struggle to achieve. Whether it is a text reader, a spell checker or an adapted screwdriver - helping students learn how to "make it work" with AT is what my work is all about. This cowboy's tools are a perfect example of what assistive technology is all about - it's not just high-tech computer equipment. Anything that solves a problem and accommodates a disability to make something work is AT. My cowboy friend is an AT designer out of necessity - and a good one to boot!

All the best to you!

(Dean has given me permission to photograph his tools and inteview him for the No Limits 2 Learning Live show and the website - so look for a great interview and photos in an up-coming edition!)

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!


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