I had the privilege of attending HP’s Hacking Autism hack-a-thon yesterday. It was an incredible group of parents, students and professionals. I was amazed as I walked through the rooms watching teams of designers discuss and build software, and I remembered how amazing this journey has been for all of us at Hope Technology School.ABC highlighted the hack-a-thon and featured an interview by one of Hope Technology School’s own parents.
Hacking Autism is a project created by Goodby Silverstein & Partners, HP and Hope Technology School. The Hacking Autism initiative is now endorsed by the Flutie Foundation and Autism Speaks. The program was announced by HP’s CTO Phil McKinney at last summer’s Maker Faire where he asked software engineers to join his efforts to create free software for the autism community. It is incredible to see the work being done at Hope Technology School that inspires and contributes to such great work.
When we began with touch computing at HTS we had a simple mandate: “hide the mouse, hide the keyboard and record every second of participation”. What we saw unfold before our eyes was staggering. The engagement, the interaction, the effort, the joy were all the proof we needed. You’ve heard the phrase, “Whatever works …”. This worked! Our students were highly motivated to use touch technology for learning and many students have experienced breakthroughs in communication using these tools.
Goodby Silverstein & Partners went to work with HP to develop a project in which HP would help people with autism. And we had the opportunity to discuss our students’ progress with the very engineers who designed the machines. I remember telling the story as a room full of computer engineers and designers hung on every word of what we explained about how their product helped our students. Everyone was inspired as we expressed the potential we saw.
As a school we continue to develop technology tools to help our students and the successes we’ve seen with many families have solidified our resolve to leverage touch computing to assist individuals with disabilities. Although, it is difficult at times to see how far we have come, it is easy to see what will come next. Changed lives.
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Google Inc. made personal their effort to be a different type of corporation when they opened their doors to young adults with Down Syndrome on June 9, 2009. The event was called an “Afternoon at Google” and it surpassed all expectations for our Hope Technology School students who participated.
Google has an extraordinary campus in Mountain View. It was on this campus at 3:30 p.m. that participants began to arrive at Building 40. Each of the young adults involved was met by one of the Google employees who call themselves Googlers. Ushered into a beautiful auditorium setting with lecture hall style seating each person was paired with their own personal Googler as an afternoon partner.
From beginning to end this experience helps one to understand why Google is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most admired companies by Fortune magazine. Each Googler made the maximum effort to create an inclusive environment where the participants felt respected and successful.
The ice breaker drew out the personality in some very charismatic participants while making the fearful comfortable enough to enjoy themselves. The tour was creatively paced to maximize enjoyment for all.
The most memorable scene was produced during the computer and internet basics activity. As these very talented and gifted Googlers partnered with each participant to explore the invisible world of cyberspace observers received a snapshot of the future.This future was one where those with special needs were seen as partners rather than dependents.
At the end of this educational and enjoyable experience each participant was presented with a certificate and symbolic t-shirt marking their participation in this “Afternoon At Google.”
There is little question in the mind of this writer that those in attendance will never think of Google in the same way. Before today Google was a search engine, corporate behemoth, or employer. On this day it was a welcoming home to a group of people it could easily have ignored. It wasn’t simply a place of employment but one where you can make a difference.
Thanks to Google and the HTS Students who participated for letting us all share in this moment.