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OrbiTouch: Show your gratitude

 For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food, for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends. 

 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson is a simple one, but it speaks to the heart of gratitude. The impending Thanksgiving holiday has many of us thinking about what we are thankful for. Some might think the “What are you thankful for?” question is silly or cliche, but that is only until one realizes how tenuous life is.

The line between life and death can be so thin. Over the past year, orbiTouch has made many new friends, among them wounded veterans. These brave individuals know the fragility of life only too well. As they fought for their country, many lost dear friends who sacrificed their lives for freedom. All it takes is one perilous step in the wrong direction to detonate an IED or catch a stray bullet. The suddenness at which a friend can be taken from us is shocking, terrifying, and irrevocable.

It is because life can be so fleeting that we must appreciate what we have here and now. Gratitude must not only be expressed in our hearts, but out loud. Life is unpredictable. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you, because everything could change tomorrow.

Be thankful for the life we live, for every breath we take, and the fact that the sun will rise each morning, giving us the opportunity to express our many gifts that have been given to us.

3 Reasons to Hire Persons with Special Needs

People with disabilities are veteran problem solvers.  

If you are one of the millions of Americans looking for a job, you will know that companies want to hire candidates who demonstrate “creative problem solving.”  Why not then hire individuals who out of necessity must creatively problem solve in their daily lives?  Because people with disabilities find innovative ways to maintain their independence, they are used to analyzing challenging situations and coming up with a viable game plan.  It is conceivable that this behavior would beneficially transfer to a business setting.

Hiring persons with disabilities sets an example for your company culture. 

If you’ve ever gone through orientation at a large corporation, there normally is a segment in the orientation curriculum about Company X’s “commitment to diversity.”  Yet people of protected classes are still underrepresented in the majority of American companies.

Last week when orbiTouch attended the Agency for Persons with Disabilities’ Employment Conference, we learned that company culture at organizations who hire those with special needs becomes stronger because the company is figuratively and literally “putting their money where their mouth is.”  Companies experience higher retention rates and increased company morale because those in charge followed through with the company’s commitment to diversity.  In an age characterized by layoffs and broken promises, follow through speaks volumes about credibility as a company.

People with disabilities offer a unique perspective. 

Say you’re planning the biggest event of the year for your company.  By holding this event, you’re hoping to strengthen relationships with existing clients and gain exposure to develop relationships with new ones.

But have you considered the following:  Is your event venue wheelchair accessible?  Do you plan to incorporate media into your presentation?  If so, did it occur to you to use closed captioning for dialogue so individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can fully understand the presentation?

These are details may not seem that important–until you lose business when a potential client who has a special need was not accommodated. Businesses who fail to accommodate those with special needs are often seen as backwards and non-progressive.  By ignoring the needs of a sizable population, in this case persons with disabilities, you are narrowing the potential impact and success of your company.  Employing persons with disabilities and having them play a active role in company policymaking prevents the likelihood of a public relations faux-pax, like the hypothetical example above, because people with disabilities bring a unique life perspective to the table.  Because of their incredible problem solving skills, persons with disabilities are able to anticipate problems that would be overlooked by the non-disabled.

Two domes. One mission. Independence.

With the July 4th holiday weekend fast approaching, one’s mind almost can’t help but turn to the issue of independence.  Of course, Americans celebrate Independence Day as an homage to our forefathers who fought for freedom from what they deemed an oppressive government.  But when talking about what we do in the assistive technology realm, the term independence takes on an entirely new meaning.  For a person with a disability, he or she isn’t fighting against an unfair political system, but rather overcoming his or her personal physical or mental challenges.

Independence in this context represents the ability to be self-reliant, to have the freedom to do everything and anything you please.  You are the controller of your own destiny.  You may succeed.  You may fail.  But the point is you have the ability to live your life on your own terms.

Independence and the ability to communicate is at the center of why we do what we do.  We live in a digital age where if you aren’t online, you can’t join the conversation.  You feel isolated, frustrated, and alone.  Other people can communicate, share thoughts and feelings, and build connections.  For example, if I am a wounded veteran with a permanent hand injury who has just returned from Afghanistan, and I want to connect with old friends and family members, I can’t because my disability precludes me from doing so.  I can’t use all of these platforms (social media, email, etc.) that are highly integrated into how people nowadays communicate with one another. If quality of life is determined by the strength of your social connections, then the inability to connect with others is devastating.

This is why we designed an alternative to the standard keyboard.  If normal keyboard use is not an option for you because you have limited mobility in your hands, orbiTouch could be a great alternative for you.  It gives you the chance to communicate using a computer.  And in the digital age, almost nothing is as important as the ability to share ideas.

We recently came up with a new slogan for our orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard.  It is:  “Two domes.  One mission.  Independence.” We hope this communicates how this product works and the power this it has to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

We’re not saying to give orbiTouch a try because it’s different or it will increase your typing speed, but because it represents the ability to express your personal thoughts and opinions, whatever they may be, despite physical and mental challenges.  You have the unalienable right to be your own person, and if we can give you the tools to do so, then we’ve done our job right.

The troops are coming home. But what waits for them?

In his address to the nation Wednesday night, President Obama announced 10,000 U.S. troops will return home before the beginning of 2012 and all 30,000 surge troops will come home by the end of next year.  For families and friends with loved ones abroad, this announcement is nothing short of a God send.  But what waits for our troops when they return home?

Last week, a colleague of mine and I made the trip over to the Orlando VA Medical Center to take a tour and drop off  funds we raised through an event benefitting wounded veterans.  We sat with the director of donations and volunteer programs as we discussed how to best allocate our contribution.

The director suggested the money go towards buying work boots for homeless veterans who are looking for jobs.  I was shocked to hear of the veterans who are able to work, many have to pass up opportunities because they don’t have the proper shoes.  This certainly doesn’t help the already abysmal veteran unemployment rate, which is an upward of twenty percent in some states according to Bureau of Labor statistics via CBS.com.

As we toured the facility, the most striking feature was simply how busy it was. Veterans, family members, volunteers, and staff filled the hallways.  Many of the waiting areas teamed with activity as veterans waited patiently to receive treatment.  Additionally, we were told the program that houses homeless veterans in dorm-style living at Orlando VA is also at capacity.

For wounded veterans, It is no secret that their personal struggle will only be beginning when they return home from war.  Even though the VA is opening an additional hospital in the Orlando area, a promising facility in Lake Nona, it is evident our resources to rehabilitate wounded veterans, both physically and mentally, are already under serious strain.  What happens when 30,000 troops come home looking for jobs and medical care?  If veterans continue to inundate the already maxed out federal programs, the future is uncertain at best.

The solution comes from being proactive and promoting awareness. On our side, we will continue to do what we can to keep this issue in the forefront of people’s minds. But there’s something you can do as well. Veterans need our support now more than ever. If you are interested in supporting your local VA, please visit http://www.orlando.va.gov/ for information on voluteerism and donations.

OrbiTouch: Social Media and the Next Generation of Advocacy

It’s no secret: Here at orbiTouch, we are huge advocates for providing communication technology to individuals with special needs.  We try to do our part by raising awareness through our business, but getting involved with a worthy cause—whether it is disability related or not—is easier than ever.

In the past, there was no other option besides picking up a sign and picketing the front lines if you wanted to be heard.  Nowadays, in the advent of social media ubiquity, it’s as easy as clicking the “Like” button.

Social media advocacy campaigns are often criticized because of the little effort they require.  Naysayers claim participating in social media to promote a cause is an extension of Gen Y’s ambivalence towards charity work.  In fact, the term “slacktivism” has been recently popularized, describing the tendency to half-heartedly interact with a cause online rather than actually volunteering or donating.

However, the slacktivism argument, in my opinion, is a short sighted.  Social media is a great way to engage people on a non-invasive level.  It’s the first rung on the ladder of engagement.  First, you get people’s attention through social media.  Then, you compel them to take the next step, whether it is signing a petition, volunteering, or donating.

In a recent article on Mashable.com, Ben Rattray, the founder of Change.org (i.e. the organization responsible for the successful viral Internet campaign for President Barack Obama), says, “The goal here is social change, it’s not to make things difficult. It may be really difficult to go protest in person, but it might be more effective to mobilize a hundred other people using the web to simultaneously send letters to a single target.”

As I said, orbiTouch’s main focus is providing means of communication for people with disabilities, and social media has been a great way for us to reach out to new groups.  A couple of months ago when I started doing social media on behalf of orbiTouch, I found the Warrior Transition Battalion in Ft. Bliss, Texas, a center that teaches disabled veterans computer skills, through a Facebook group interested in helping wounded soldiers.  I thought their program was a great fit for our company, and after exchanging Facebook posts and emails, our company ended up donating an orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard for them to try out.  I have since learned that there is a sizable population of wounded veterans stationed in Ft.Bliss who now have access to this technology and are already having success with using our keyboard.  If we hadn’t been able to start the conversation through a mutual interest Facebook group, we probably would never have crossed paths.

So, how do you get involved?  That’s up to you.  If you are interested in working with special needs or wounded veteran groups, please visit our Facebook page,http://www.facebook.com/orbitouch, for information on accessing a variety of worthy causes.

The Importance of Autism Advocacy

During the recording of our first video blog focused on the applications of orbiTouch with autistic individuals, I was reminded of the importance of Autism advocacy.

Autism is a relatively new addition to the sphere of disease awareness. Beforehand, Autistic children and adults, most of them undiagnosed, were just thought of as eccentric, strange, or just weird overall. I think about how frustrating it must’ve been for Autistic individuals back then, and even now, in understanding their behaviors. In a society where conformity is king, many of these people must have asked themselves, “Why can’t I just be like everybody else?”

I could tell you that it is our unique differences that make life interesting (which ultimately, I do think is true), but try telling that to a person who has to live with the ramifications of being different every day. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have the gall to tell another person how they’re feeling.

It has been very recently—within the past 15 years particularly—this condition has started to receive the recognition it deserves. In fact, many people believe Autism numbers have been on the rise due to environmental factors, but according to a recent article on ArsTechnica.com, it is more likely researchers and doctors are just more adept in diagnosing this incredibly misunderstood cognitive and behavioral challenge.

It is evident that this condition must be further researched to be fully understood. In the meantime, we must have compassion as we learn more about this complex condition. We might not know for certain the causes of Autism, but hopefully with the right research and advocates, we someday will.

Wounded Warriors: Why Freedom is Not Free

Countless stories tell of an exploded Humvee in Fallujah. An IED in Kandahar. A routine excursion goes from ordinary to life threatening in a matter of seconds.  A life is irrevocably changed forever.

After the initial excitement of their return, wounded warriors must relearn and reorganize—most often time with limited technology and support—to pursue a well-adjusted, productive lifestyle.

There are many examples of courage and conviction in the perpetually unfolding narrative of The War on Terror, but for wounded warriors, the battle is only beginning when they return home.  Traumatic brain injury.  Lost appendages. Blindness. These conditions are common among injured veterans and make it impossible to use a keyboard and mouse. In the highly critical age of social media and real time communication, the inability to use a computer is devastating.

For example, social outlets we take for granted like email or Facebook are now impassable hurdles for wounded warriors who long to reconnect with loved ones and friends in their struggle to maintain normalcy. In some cases, physically wounded veterans express feeling trapped inside their own bodies.  Though their mental capacity is intact, they are unable to effectively communicate and maintain meaningful relationships because of injuries sustained in battle.

As it says on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., “Freedom is Not Free.”  Our wounded warriors serve as a constant reminder of the real cost of war.  Brave Americans sacrifice their bodies—and sometimes even their lives—so we can live in a free country.  It is the ultimate sacrifice and something we will never be able to fully repay.

OrbiTouch implores everyone to support wounded veterans anyway they can.  Volunteer.  Donate.  Spread awareness. Say “thank you.” They gave their lives for us.  The least we can do is give these individuals tools to succeed and live fulfilling lives.