Saturday, March 7, 2015

OTMommy spOTlight on: Wade Wingler, Turning the Table on the Host of Assistive Technology Update

When I finally decided to work on my ATP (assistive technology professional) certification, I had already begun listening to Wade Wingler, at the INDATA Project, host of The Assistive Technology Update to get my "weekly dose of the latest information to keep (me) up to date in the ever changing field of assistive technology". I had even reached out to him for some advice at various points in time, because who better to guide me in the right direction than an established ATP. Fast forward 2 years, and nearly 200 episodes later, I wanted to turn the interview table on Wade and celebrate his upcoming 200th episode.
Thanks Wade for participating in this little interview for my blog.  I really just wanted to be able to give a shout out to you and your program since it was (and still is) the way I keep informed on current trends in the field, helping me provide the best service to my students, as well as fostering my passion for Assistive Technology!  

Your formal background is in sociology.  How did you find yourself working in the field of Assistive Technology, and at the INDATA project?

At the time I started working for Easter Seals Crossroads, I was preparing to go to graduate school for a masters degree in social work.  Frankly, I wasn’t accepted to grad school the first time around and needed a job!  Because I wanted to be a social worker and I had been writing computer software since I was 8 years old, a job that worked with people with disabilities and their technology needs seemed to be a decent way to spend one year while I was waiting to get into graduate school.  That one year detour turned into almost 22 years of the greatest career I could have ever asked for.

What inspired the idea of starting Assistive Technology Update?

A few years ago, our program experienced some significant funding cuts in the midst of political wrangling.  One of the parts of our program that was cut was our annual assistive technology conference.  I wanted to create something that would give people in Indiana a glimpse into the AT conference experience in a more affordable way.  The format of Assistive Technology Update is designed to capture a snippet of a conference experience, on a weekly basis, in a half-hour show.  We feature news stories and app reviews which are similar to visiting an expo hall at a conference.  We also include interviews with thought leaders in the field of AT, which is a little bit like attending an educational session at an AT conference.  Secondarily, I always wanted to be a radio personality when I was a kid and this project has let me scratch that itch.

Flashing back to October 28, 2011, the date of the first-released podcast,  did you ever think it would reach as far and wide as it has, for as long as it has?

No.  I honestly didn’t think it would grow as much as it has.  Because it was originally intended to replace a portion of the AT conference in Indiana, I hadn’t imagined the show growing to serve a worldwide audience.  We now have listeners in over 150 countries and I hear from people from almost every part of the globe.  I also didn’t expect the show to go from a very cheesy, three minute show to something more professionally produced and comprehensive in format.  

Of your nearly 200 episodes, which was your favorite interview and why?

Funny you ask.  On March 27, 2015 we will release episode 200 of Assistive Technology Update and, during that interview, I am asked that very question by radio personality, and our guest host, Danny Wayne.  I don’t have a single favorite episode, but we will play excerpts from three episodes that were particularly memorable.  The first is an interview with John Williams, the man who coined the term “assistive technology.”  The second was with a group of AT pioneers from Mongolia in which we talk about how their work has been helpful in getting the most basic AT in the hands of people in that country.  The last was a two-part interview with Bob Heil, the only non-musician ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Bob has a passion for sound, electronics, and helping kids with disabilities to be HAM radio operators.  Bob also has been the “sound guy” for musical legends like Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Carrie Underwood, and Stevie Wonder.

Tell me about the new AT Q&A Podcast.
We are about to record the very first episode of that show.  It’s been created in response to the wide variety of AT questions that we get here at Easter Seals Crossroads on an almost daily basis.  I was recently in a staff meeting when some of our senior AT specialists were kicking a question around and I found myself enchanted with the conversation.  It occurred to me that there might be people who would like to be a fly on the wall when some really smart AT professionals were talking about these kinds of questions an answers.  From that conversation, the idea for the show was born.

The host of the show is Brian Norton, manager of clinical assistive technology.  Regular panelists will include Mark Stewart who is the team lead of our cognitive/mobility team and Belva Smith who leads our vision/sensory team.  We also plan to have a fourth chair on a regular basis in which we will have various subject matter experts lend their perspective as well.

The show will be released twice a month and can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, or on the web at
Now it’s your turn to answer: Tell me your favorite story about a AT….

Just one?  I can’t limit it to just one.  I’ll give you a couple:

I have amazing experiences each summer at a camp that we host for non-verbal kids.  We call it gadget camp and it’s amazing to see a group of young people, all augmentative communication users, interact with each other, go fishing, have water balloon fights, and make friends.

Not long ago I met an older, recently retired college professor who was losing his vision and had decided that he no longer offered value to the world.  He hadn’t wanted to retire and was clearly distraught that he wasn’t able to work in the same ways he had in the past.  As someone who teaches AT at the college level, I was immediately able to relate to him as an instructor and was also able to point him to resources that were able to help him go back to work and regain his confidence.  But, during that conversation, I specifically remember the moment when he exhaled, rather loudly, and said “Wow.  Maybe I’m not washed up after all.  Perhaps I could at least do something instead of sitting at home in front of the television wishing I could see what is on the screen.”  Moments like those make it worthwhile.

With technology changing exponentially, where do you see the field of AT in 5 years?

Based on my predictions, which mirrors what most of the guests on my show tell me, I think we will see much more mobile, much more integrated assistive technologies available at much lower costs.  I’ve seen that trajectory in my career and expect it to continue.  I also expect to continue to see more universal design and main stream technologies created with accessibility built-in.  The lines between what is considered assistive and mainstream will continue to converge and blur.  

From automatic coffee pots to smart phones, to GPS technology, to iPads, we live in a world in which each of us takes technology for granted every single day.  It is my hope that people with disaibliites will also be able to take technology for granted because it’s created in a way that is accessible to everyone.

And if anyone would like to reach out to you or the INDATA project, what would be the best way to contact you?

Twitter: @INDATAProject

Make sure to check out and subscribe to Assistive Technology Update as well as ATFAQ though iTunes to get your fix of new and upcoming technology information. You can also get great tips on tons of different devices from Easter Seals Tech Team when you check out their You Tube Channel. And if you have a question about assistive technology, you can tweet it along with the hashtag #ATFAQ, and maybe it will be answered on the the new podcast.

Congratulations Wade and the rest of the team at Easter Seals Crossroads and the INDATA project for highlighting, informing and entertaining for 200 episodes!

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