Online, my wheelchair is invisible
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This article was written by Ivan Bakaidov, 18, Saint-Petersburg, Russian Federation
Nowadays digital technologies are being developed with the speed of optical fiber, changing the lives of millions of people in this world. But especially for children with disabilities, modern technologies play a central role.
I am 18 years old and I have cerebral palsy, a physical disability that affects my movement and posture, which is why I am using a wheelchair. The day I received an electronic notepad connected to the internet, my life literally changed.
The notepad provides me with freedom of communication. Channels of communication have changed drastically over the past 300 years: from physical mail brought to you by a postman on a horse to real-time digital messengers. This progress has highly benefited persons with disabilities, as now communication requires less mobility. Today, children and young people with disabilities can communicate with family members and peers online. I have multiple friends online, from various parts of the world. If we were to meet in person, they would not understand a word that I say, as I have a speech impediment. However, due to the help of technology, I can seamlessly communicate with them. Some of my virtual friends don’t even know that I have a disability.
In a similar way I can communicate with teachers. Education is another area in which modern technology is invaluable for children with disabilities. The opportunities for self-education are unlimited. Even though I am a student, I can’t physically access my school. However, with the help of the internet and phones I am attending the classes and following the teachers’ instructions, regardless of my physical condition. There are also online platforms that allow young people to obtain work diplomas without ever having to leave their wheelchairs.
This leads me to another field where digital technologies create more opportunities: employment. In the modern economy, where mental labour is more valued than physical labour, someone with a physical disability can find a job much more easily than a hundred years ago.
Today’s employer doesn’t care whether his programmer, journalist or SEO manager uses a wheelchair or not, as long as the employee does the work. Particularly in the world of coding, persons with disabilities might even have an advantage sometimes. For example, nowadays specialists in site accessibility are in high demand in Russia. In my case, I just recently consulted and supported a group of graphic designers in St. Petersburg on that issue.
The increased use of digital technologies has inspired me to develop my own programmes for alternative communication, helping people who are mute, have speech impediments or severe physical disabilities. For example, DisType is a software I developed that helped me to speak as an advocate at the World Humanitarian Summit, which took place in Istanbul in 2016.
DisQwerty allows searching for a word or expression with only one button, which can be tremendously helpful. Another programme I developed, DisTalk, allows someone to speak by using only images. All the programmes are free of charge and anyone can access them – you can learn more about the projects at http://en.aacidov.ru.
As you can see well from my example, digital technologies help to remove barriers and open opportunities for children and young people with disabilities.