On assistive tech specialists and “help”

Why is it that people persist in being “helpful,” well after you’ve made it clear that you already found something that works for you?

I was thinking about the process of my internship in grad school. It was already making me nervous because I had never tried to use any of my equipment in public before, and it was taking a while for the Student Services office to figure out how to “lend” their copy of Dragon to the place I’d be interning for. But at least, I thought, I’d explained to my supervisor and Student Services that I’d be bringing my own keyboard with me, and my supervisor seemed to have no problem.

Ironically, it was Student Services who seemed not to have gotten the message. Part of the reason it took so long to establish my accommodations was that they kept calling me and the supervisor with recommendations that were absolutely not doable. The coordinator seemed quite insistent that I let her order a 508 keyboard from Temple’s lending library. A 508 keyboard is your basic flat two-handed membrane/rubber dome keyboard, except that it’s wired to toggle one-handed typing by holding the spacebar and mirroring the other half of the keyboard. When I told the coordinator that I would definitely be bringing my own, she replied, “And you can’t use the 508 why, exactly?” As if I were being unnecessarily obstinate. So, my nerves becoming increasingly shot, I told her.

1. Any flat keyboard causes my fingers to go into spasm. My hand doesn’t bend or stretch that way anymore. The force required to press a rubber dome would likely hasten the process.
2. Even if I didn’t get spasms, there’d be no way that I could touch type on the thing anytime soon. I haven’t so much as touched a QWERTY keyboard in years. My visual spatial skills are terrible, and trying to mentally flip the image of a keyboard I haven’t used for years would frustrate me to no end.
3. My thumb is not strong enough to be used as constantly as it would have needed to be.

Conversely, the Maltron layout is stored in my muscle memory, and it doesn’t give me spasms unless I’ve been typing for way too long, which doesn’t really happen. If I need to, I can reach over and press a thumb key with my index finger. Furthermore, it’s mine — no work required on the part of either my supervisor or Student Services. If Student Services wanted to be helpful, they could have borrowed a Maltron from Temple so I wouldn’t have had to carry mine back and forth.

Assistive technology is a personal decision, and your client won’t always fit the cookie-cutter. I don’t know whether the coordinator disregarded everything that was in my medical file, or whether they just needed someone to test the 508 keyboard, but the amount of worry generated was completely unnecessary, considering that THE ACCOMMODATIONS HAD ALREADY BEEN MADE — BY ME.

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2 Responses to On assistive tech specialists and “help”

  1. G F Mueden says:

    I resent unwanted help, in part because it cuts away at my independence. However, I try to be nice about rejecting it for fear of offending somebody to whom someday I may have to turn to for help.

    I also dislike people who demand that a reply be “exactly”, and those who don’t answer my question, but ask why I want to know.

    Beware of PhDs who give scholarly reasons why something can’t be done and whose reaction to a new idea is negative.

    BTW, how did she take your reply?

  2. hand2mouth says:

    Yeah — I know what you mean. Fortunately I didn’t express the same degree of annoyance to her directly, though I did give the same explanation, with rising tension. After we had the conversation for the second or third time, she dropped it, with a kind of verbal shrug. It may have helped that she hadn’t heard of or seen my keyboard, so she more or less had to take my word for it.

    I hear you about answering with “why”. Even worse is when somebody answers with a totally unrelated topic, which can border on insulting. A friend of mine who also has CP once asked a music teacher how a cello might be adapted for someone with his particular configuration, and offered a couple scenarios. An “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure it could” would have been sufficient. The teacher replied, “I know someone who plays the drums; why not try that?”
    It can be hard sometimes to remember that most of these people mean well, when some of them appear so oblivious. 🙂

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