Beck: Hi John. Thanks for meeting with me today.
Williams: Good morning Doug. Nice to meet with you.
Beck: John, I know youve been a writer for 35 years, and you wrote a weekly column for Business Week Online Magazine. And I believe that since about 1980 youve written primarily about disability issuesis that right?
Williams: Yes, thats right.
Beck: John, your book is an amazing collection of articles, indexes, manufacturer contact information, rules and regs, and really is sort of an encyclopedia on Assistive Technologies. How did you get involved with assistive technology and writing this book?
Williams: Thanks Doug, as you can hear, I stutter. And although my stutter is well controlled now, there was a time in my life when about 90 or 95 percent of the words just would not come out of my mouth. In 1978, I met with a speech-language pathologist. For the next 18 months, 3 times a day, and for 90 minutes each session, I worked with a computer to see when the stutter was going to start, how I was increasing tension, and when the blocks were going to happen. So, I learned a lot about stuttering, and how to control my stuttering. I kept a diary of my progress and how his program changed my life. I started to wonder If a computer-based rehab program could help me, I wondered what was available for people with more severe disabilities?
Beck: And at that time, you were looking beyond stuttering?
Williams: Yes, I was. There were probably some 50 or 60 companies marketing various assistive products, whereas today, there are hundreds and hundreds. I reviewed products and then I communicated with the manufacturers, and I asked them for the names and contact information of a user or two. In other words, I wanted to contact individuals that had real-world experience with various products to see what impact the product had on their quality of life.
Beck: Wow that mustve been very interesting work?
Williams: Yes, it really was fabulous, and that got me started, and Ive been doing this type of writing ever since. In fact, Ive even done many interviews with interesting people, similar to what youre doing now!
Beck: I know youve written some 2000 articles, and six books, and youve interviewed some really amazing people. Who were the most memorable people you worked with?
Williams: Ive interviewed many memorable people; George W. Bush back in 2000, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Governor Jesse Ventura and other prominent people, too.
Beck: And of all those interviews, what was the most striking thing you took away from those conversations?
Williams: I learned that people who make it in life, the most successful people I ever met, did not judge people based on their disabilities. They size up people based on their abilities. To me, as a writer, and as a disabled person, this was a very important lesson and made a significant impression on me.
Beck: I understand on both levels, John. Thanks for sharing that. And what would you say about the technologies themselves?
Williams: The technologies get better all the time. They are becoming more sophisticated daily, and the opportunities and abilities expand exponentially every few months. Its a very exciting time. One of the most important developments has been the merging of information technology (IT) with assistive technology (AT). The merging of these two technologies will eventually eliminate the need for separate assistive technologies. I really believe AT will become part of the mainstream offerings of groups like Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and many others. So the future is very bright, and accessibility is increasing all the time.
Beck: Please tell me a little about the book itself?
Williams: The book is really a directory of related issues. It presents a comprehensive directory of hundreds of assistive technology manufacturers. The book also features summaries of federal legislation on disability issues, an overview of assistive technologies, key Supreme Court decisions relating to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and many other offerings.
Beck: I should mention that the text has quite a few amusing and educational articles which you (and others) penned, and they really are insightful, chock full of references, and educational. Additionally, the manufacturer index gives the toll free numbers, the websites and all other contact information. Its a very useful guide.
Williams: Thanks, Doug. I appreciate your mentioning that.
Beck: One thing I wanna mention before I let you run is that I really enjoyed the essay about Stephen Hawking. He is one of my real-life heros and I was so impressed with your essay. Dr. Hawking is, of course, a professor at Cambridge and has had ALS for 30 years. I really enjoyed your note that his although he cannot speak with his own voice, he uses a computer generated voice to lecture, and his only complaint was that the computer gave him an American accent! Further, he noted that although he has lost phycial abilities, such as walking and speaking, he has not lost his ability to think!
Williams: Thanks again. That was a wonderful interview, and meeting him was fantastic. And as I noted in the essay, if it werent for assistive technology, his brain wouldve been wasted as his thoughts wouldve been trapped inside his brain, with no way to get out.
Beck: John, thanks for your time this morning. I really enjoy the book. I think it is extremely useful for all professionals involved in Communication Disorders, and I also think this book is very useful for the patients and their families too. I would like to urge the readers to acquire a copy.
To obtain information, or a copy of the book through print, CD or through the Internet, please go to www.atn-ctcf.org, or contact Howard McClintic at 202-312-2913.
Beck: Hi John. Thanks for meeting with me today.