A Star is Born Amid Technology

Donna Porter-Garcia loved learning computer skills at the STAR Center. Sadly, Donna passed away unexpectedly just prior to release of this story. The Aging and Disability Services Advisory Council sends condolences to her family and many friends.

In 1998, Center Park residents got together and decided that they did not want to be left behind in today's computer and fast Internet Age. The Special Technology Access Resource (STAR) Center of Seattle was born.

The STAR Center is a universal design computer lab with special technology for various disabilities. The Center uses the latest assistive technology software and hardware, such as:

  • JAWS for Windows Screen Reading Software—helps students who are blind use a computer
  • ZoomText Magnifier—enlarges and enhances everything on your computer screen, making all applications easy to see and use
  • WordQ—a powerful, extremely easy-to-use, writing software that predicts words as you type and reads predicted words to improve choice accuracy
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking—speech recognition software that is a fast, fun, and convenient way to interact with a PC, just by talking
  • Ainsworth Typing Tutor—automatically adjusts adaptive lessons to match any skill level
  • Rosetta Stone—software that helps people learn and improve English

In addition, the STAR Center offers peer instruction in using software and hardware to adapt to individual visual and physical limitations.

Donna Potter-Garcia and Jim Bush, two of the volunteers who give their time and knowledge to others at the STAR Center, share their stories about what it is like to age with disabilities and what a difference using computers and the Internet has made for them.

Donna Potter-Garcia: Technology and Me

[Editor: Donna passed away right before this story was published. We would like to share her inspirational comments with AgeWise King County readers.]

I am 69 years old. Everything I know about using computers, I learned at the STAR Center. I do the bus schedules for Center Park, monthly calendars of events, large print calendars, and various other documents in Microsoft Word. I use e-mail regularly, sending and receiving—with attachments, when needed. I know there is a vast amount of knowledge about using computers still waiting for me to learn it, but what I have learned already has changed my life, all for the better.

Jim Bush: What Has Technology Meant for Me?

I have lived with and learned to cope with the effects of Cerebral Palsy for over 50 years. I am currently a wheelchair user and have been for over 30 years. The evolution of technology did not affect me until about 30 years ago, when I first used an Atari or Commodore 64 computer—more game machines than anything, but they did have word-processing programs as well as a printer. I started using PCs in the late 1980's as a volunteer at a nonprofit agency, where I created many documents on a CP/M machine, and then I started using an Apple Mac. I learned how to use MS-DOS machines at the [now defunct] Resource Center for the Handicapped (RCH) in 1991 and eventually transitioned to Windows-based PC’s about 15 years ago.

Jim Bush appreciates the evolution of technology and recognizes how much more work can be done.

While I learned basic keyboarding on manual and electric typewriters in high school and college (in office skills classes at Seattle Central Community College), the transition to using a PC has enabled me to substantially increase my writing ability and thought processes. In addition, I am much more able to do the work I need to do as a resident leader within my community and an advocate for others throughout the city.

As a result of becoming computer-literate, I have found that I am able to work more creatively, effectively, and efficiently, with better results than I could if I had to perform the same work by hand (try reading my handwriting some time!) or with a standard manual or electric typewriter—and the finished product looks much better, too. I am so prone to making mistakes with a typewriter—computers allow you to see your mistakes on screen and fix them before you print or send your work to someone electronically. What would we do without spell-checkers?

As for how the evolution of technology has affected my life, many applications come to mind. With a computer, I am able to adjust what I see on the screen to make it more visible. My limited vision makes it difficult to see what I am writing on screen, so having a way to enlarge the text is a godsend!

Other things have helped me be more independent, too. I rely on the audible and visual cues that are becoming more common ("talking" elevators and transit buses, audible traffic signals, closed captioning of TV programs). The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has spurred many of these—but there is still work that can be done.

Good examples of things that can increase independence for people with "differing abilities" include public buildings that are designed in a way that makes them fully accessible to everyone, with easily-opened, power or automatic doors wherever needed, good paths of circulation throughout; "facilities" that are easily used; and other amenities like streets with curb cuts and good sidewalks, public  transit vehicles (buses and trains) that can be used by everyone, and public attitudes that show that people with "differing abilities" are valuable members of society who should be seen, heard, and recognized as such.

The STAR Center is located at 2600 S Walker St, Seattle (#8 Metro bus line). Services are free. To arrange a visit, register for classes, or get more information, contact STAR Center director Oscar Escalante (425-308-6526 or oscartheatguru@gmail.com) or June Rhoton (206-325-4284 or starofseattle@cablespeed.com), or visit www.starofseattle.org.

—Oscar Escalante, STAR Center of Seattle