Advances in Adaptive Technology Help a North Carolina Designer Recapture His Creativity
Anyone need a graphic designer? Tom Hartman is back in business!
After being diagnosed with MS in 1987, Tom, of Charlotte, N.C., rapidly lost mobility and eventually left the printing industry, where he’d been a color correction supervisor, on disability. He and his wife Lois, a teacher of English as a Second Language, looked into adaptive technology, but computers were so expensive then that they dropped the idea.
“We just went home and the next 10 years went by and there was nothing,” Lois said.
Tom went from a scooter to a wheelchair to having to remain in bed all day, and Lois took early retirement to care for him. Then, in the fall of 2007, a decidedly old-fashioned change agent arrived: a postcard.
It was from the Mid Atlantic Chapter, and it gave a number to call to get involved in the MS Technology Collaborative, which was starting a pilot project with six other National MS Society chapters. With funding from Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, the chapter arranged for an in-home assessment visit from the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program, a state office that’s one of dozens nationwide designated as a Microsoft Accessibility Resource Center
The program set Tom up with hands-free input devices, plus software to make the devices interact with the same programs the rest of the world uses.
Here’s how Lois describes the impact:
“It was like day and night. It was unbelievable. For the first time in 12 years, he typed an e-mail by himself. We said, ‘This is just what we were waiting for!’”
Recently he used off-the-shelf drawing software to create the scenes below. They're based on photos he and Lois took when they could travel together.
In the pre-PC days, Tom would spend an entire day in a darkroom performing tasks that today take 15 minutes on a computer. His mission now is to learn to work the computer well enough to seize those 15 minutes. Every time his vocational trainer visits, they wind up learning together: Tom keeps discovering undocumented software features and teaching them to his teacher.
“I think it’s kind of new to them like it’s new to me,” he said nearly a year after that fateful postcard came.
Tom started his professional comeback by doing graphics projects on a volunteer basis for the Society, and hoped to expand to church newsletters and other community projects — and eventually, perhaps, paying clients.
“I was just reborn when they handed me this computer,” he said. “I’ve been laying back for 10 years and now I can do something again. It’s amazing. So whatever anybody has for me to do, I’ll try.”
While the pilot that Tom Hartman participated in has ended, it generated knowledge that potential users of assistive technology will find fascinating — maybe even life-changing. Use the “Snapshot” tool at myMSmyWAY.com to answer a few questions about how you currently use technology and receive an instant report on resources tailored to your needs.