We’re delighted to welcome Laura Pettenuzzo as a guest blogger. Laura is a writer with cerebral palsy and a disability advocate living on Wurundjeri country. Passionate about accessibility, Laura writes Plain and Easy English content for various organisations, and her words have appeared in places like ABC, SBS and The Age.
As someone who only identified as disabled around 5 years ago, I’m still learning how I can use technology to support me in the most effective and beneficial ways.
My friends and my support team often send me suggestions. There are gadgets and tools for the kitchen that seem simple and obvious now that I am aware of them, but that I wouldn’t have considered on my own, such as rubber mats for gripping and opening milk cartons, or a stand for the kettle so I can tip rather than lift it.
And then there are other tools that are just as common but have provided me unique benefits with managing my disabilities. On cold days, when my fingers are stiff and harder to control, I’ve started to rely on voice messages or voice-to-text software to communicate with my friends and family. Pressing a single button and then dictating a message is far easier than having a type messages and replies of varying lengths.
As someone still shielding from the ongoing pandemic, I remain grateful for the ways that platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have facilitated remote work and meetings, with the added benefits of the chat features and automatic captions.
Recently I pet-sat for one of my friends, who is also a wheelchair user. She owns her home and has it optimised for her comfort and accessibility. For instance, she has a Google Home system which can turn the lights on and off in various rooms. While I stayed with her, I used the system regularly, so that I didn’t have to get up and down and walk around each time I wanted to change the lighting. This was particularly useful on days when my balance was less than ideal and/or my spasms were worse than usual.
My friend’s house also has a self-cleaning kitty litter, remote operated curtains and front doors, and a rubbish bin that opens and closes automatically.
I currently live in an apartment building, and one of the biggest challenges is manually opening the front door in my wheelchair. It often takes me several attempts, and more often than not, I rely on the kindness of strangers to hold the door open for me. One particularly embarrassing time, I hit the front door with the footplates of my wheelchair and cracked the glass. I dread the process of entering and exiting the building. Having automatic doors, like those in my friend’s house, would be life-changing.
I hope that if I eventually own a house, I’ll be able to set it up with technology similar to hers, so that I can conserve my energy and use it to engage in activities that nourish me.
For all that I’ve discovered about technology, I know there’s so much more to learn, and I’m eager to see it diminish or remove access barriers for myself and others with cerebral palsy.
We work with people like Laura every day, harnessing the power of assistive technology to make movement and mobility easier for people with a disability. Find out more about our world-first disability tech accelerator, Remarkable and our research into assistive technology innovations.