Tech Trials: Part 1

You know that person who has to have the latest phone or tablet, or who’s always looking to upgrade their laptop?

Yeah — that’s NOT me.

In fact, until about a year or so ago, I was afraid of new technology. I hated, HATED the prospect of getting a new phone or computer. I was absolutely sure that whatever I’d get wouldn’t be as accessible as what I’d been using. No matter how slow the laptop, how buggy the software, I’d use it until it burned itself out. I didn’t give up my flip-phone for a smart phone until 2017!

Here’s how this kind of fear develops:

I get a laptop or phone and learn how to use it. I learn how to overcome the gaping holes in the built-in accessibility features by cobbling together 3rd-party screen-readers and obscure open-source software. Once I had 3 different calculator programs on my computer to try to compensate for the inaccessibility of the graphing calculator I needed for school. Three different programs – and there were still functions I couldn’t perform! When I say “life just takes longer when you’re disabled, “this is what I’m talking about But it did enough that I passed my classes. It was functional, if time-consuming and headache-inducing. It worked, and that’s what mattered.

Then something gets updated. An OS, a program, my hardware …something gets changed. “Improved.” “Look how much faster it boots up!” the enthusiastic tech overseeing my change-over says. “See how the windows don’t hang anymore/” No, I don’t see. Because what has my attention is the fact that now whatever text-to-speech program I’m using can no longer interpret 30% of the functions I needed. Menus, icon locations, blocks of text, links…something gets lost. Something important. Some piece of code vital to screen readers got streamlined out, and now my shiny new machine has become not only a disappointment, but a barrier to my success.

And this seemed to happen every single time I was forced to change my tools.

I’m a patient person; I can go do the dishes while waiting for a slow laptop to boot up. I don’t mind if a window hangs; I’ll just reboot the computer. I would much rather use familiar, reliable solutions for known problems than spend a month losing opportunities, failing to meet expectations, and getting headaches because of a new machine that doesn’t work as well – for me – as the previous one.

This problem was compounded by people. Well-meaning, good-intentioned people who wanted to provide for me would push me toward new technology, insisting that newer was obviously better. They believed they knew how to improve my way of life – but had very little understanding of what they wanted to change. They often treated my fear of new technology as an ideological Luddite response rather than a practical, and well-founded, fear. And, of course, software companies arbitrarily updated without warning or permission, so I felt entirely at their mercy. Caught between routinely demoralizing updates and allies who blamed me for my fear, I felt abandoned. My agency didn’t matter so long as people and companies thought they were improving my world.

It’s hard to be gracious when your entire body vibrates with a decade’s pent-up fear and frustration. When I needed technical support, I often lashed out or teared up because I felt my technical supporter was as much part of the problem as the computer itself. I don’t say this to justify my sharp tongue or panicky responses, simply to explain them.

But this story has a happy ending, I promise.

I promise this isn’t going to be an Ode to Apple, but this company did feature prominently in my healing journey. They are in part responsible for my current outlook of optimism and curiosity.

When I began studying counseling at the graduate level I discovered I needed a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5. It’s often called the counselor’s Bible, their version of the physician’s desk reference. So I called up the American Psychiatric Association, who publishes this tome, and asked them if an electronic version of the book existed. It did, but it was only available on Apple Books. And in order to read that, I needed….a new tech toy.

My husband was excited. I was terrified.

My husband works in IT, and loves it enough that he’s been my private IT department since we met. He’s supported my accessibility needs at new jobs, advocated for me to tech sales reps, and graciously put up with a lot of undeserved tongue-lashings when I ran into problems and went to war against technology and all who loved it.

He’d been telling me for years that Apple’s accessibility technology would make even the dreaded touch-screen available to me. But after years of promises broken by dozens of techies I just didn’t believe it. I couldn’t; it wasn’t worth the risk. But my career field finally forced me to take the plunge. I can imagine him daydreaming about how empowered I’d feel, zipping around the screen of an iPad, but all I could think of was asking my doctor about migraine meds, or the worst-case scenario, having to drop out of school because I just couldn’t use the tools required.

I clutched my flip-phone and cried.

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t like the iBook’s app. It’s probably the least functional one on my iPad. I go out of my way to avoid using it.

But the first time my husband handed me an iPad with Voiceover and reversed-contrast enabled, showed me how to tap in and out of apps I was absolutely amazed. He was right; it changed my life for the better in ways I’m still calculating. For the first time I could consistently, easily, and quickly communicate, access and record information, and organize productivity without having to construct convoluted pathways to avoid gaps in service. I could carry an entire library in my purse, collaborate with classmates and my co-author, conduct research and manipulate data without even a single dose of ibuprofen to get me through! Studying became a treat instead of a trial – well, except for the DSM. It’s still a huge, clunky piece of work. That’s an update I can’t wait to receive!

It’s taken 4 years, 2 iPads, 2 iPhones, and 2 Macs to slowly convert my trepidation into anticipation. But now when I hear about updates I start asking questions beyond “will it do everything my current gadget does/”

It can take time to overcome years of fear and frustration. And it’s ok to take that time, to slowly let down your guard in safe spaces, receiving just a little healing at a time. Anyone who asks you to suddenly embrace safety simply on their word that it is, in fact, safe, is taking your emotional journey far too personally. 

It’s your fear, your journey, and your healing. While this doesn’t give you leave to bite the hand trying to feed you, it does mean you have the right and responsibility to determine how much healing you’re ready for at any given time.

To be continued…

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