Anyone who practices the art of cultural criticism must endure being asked, What is the solution to the problems you describe? Critics almost never appreciate this question, since, in most cases, they are entirely satisfied with themselves for having posed the problems and, in any event, are rarely skilled in formulating practical suggestions about anything. That is why they become cultural critics.
—Technopoly, The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
Once a group of senators were talking about a colleague who might have had trouble winning re-election except that his opponent was as inept a campaigner as he was, and Johnson said, “That reminds me of the fellow down in Texas who says to his friend, “Earl, I am thinking about running for sheriff against Uncle Jim Wilson. What do you think?” His friend says, “Well, it depends on which of you sees the most people. If you see the most, Uncle Jim will win. If he sees the most, you will win.”
—The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate by Robert Caro
The rabbit in the barn put Trist in mind of an episode the autumn before the Wilderness—he couldn’t remember the date or the place exactly, somewhere in late ’63 along the Maryland border, a pitched battle for a field and a hill. There were five or six infantry regiments on each side, two or three of them with heavy artillery attached, and the noise of the cannons and muskets was, as always, terrifying, apocalyptic. The ground and trees shook, and at eye level the air itself seemed to burst into flames, catch fire, and turn into smoke—and then, suddenly, unbelievably, out of the burrows hidden beneath the trampled grass and along the roadside, hundreds and hundreds of tiny rabbits came running and hopping across the battlefield, crazed with fright. And more amazing still, they ran for protection, not to the woods or the road, but directly toward the soldiers. Trist and his men were lying down on the hump of a cleared ridge, firing at dug-in rebels seventy yards away, and the rabbits simply swarmed all over them and huddled under their legs and arms, nestled trembling in their coat flaps, pockets, against their belts and under their chins. For five or ten minutes at least the troops on both sides held their fire and watched, or stroked the rabbits’ ears and bellies, and comforted them.
Naturally, I begin with myself. The primary theme of my website is based on a scholarly body of literature known as experienced-based design which for the layperson, such as myself, means that I should have a role in the design of the world I live in.
2. My focus. Specifically, I am focusing on two separate worlds (or perhaps world views would be more correct); namely:
Reality: the design of housing for elderly and disabled individuals such as myself
Virtual reality: the tool that makes it possible, economical, and more efficient to create a 3-D model that can be used as a template for the massive construction effort required to house the elderly population here in Rust Belt, PA, and as we age; we “baby boomers” who constitute the largest generation in our country and indeed the world’s history. Stay tuned for more on this demographic reality and its impact.
McKeesport, PA is the unlikely location for a presentation of how the reality of technology currently being constructed should serve as a model for the future. The overriding example presented here is a non-profit corporation BlueroofTechnologies founded 10 years ago, where I spent three days and two nights in December as the first invited guest at the Blueroof Experimental Cottage shown here with Blueroof’s founders on the front porch (a front porch identified by elderly residents as being significant to their sense of well-being):
Next is a photograph of next door in decaying McKeesport. Notice that the road and sidewalk are rotting, and the door and everything else about the building has been demolished, but the wheelchair-accessible curb cut is brand new. (Stay tuned for more on McKeesport‘s curb cuts to nowhere.)
The principal characters in this encomium to Blueroof’s founders are Dr. Robert Walters, (left) a former engineering professor at the local campus of Penn State, and John Bertoty, a retired principal of the local high school.
My under construction profile of John’s cofounder reads: “Robert Walters is the kind of engineer who collects more data than he knows what to do with, but wants more.” Bob currently is collecting data on the number of times the residents of a non-experimental Blueroof residence open their refrigerator doors.
Assume your 86-year-old mother is living alone in an apartment (which is basically what a Blueroof Cottage is). If she has not opened her refrigerator door for three days, that indicates something is wrong. The wired cottage alerts you in a timely fashion and you are able to get there before three days, whatever default Bob contrives. Instead of arriving at Mom’s residence to find her passed out on the floor, requiring an ambulance and who-knows-what, you are able to get over there and help your mother out.
This is a device Bob contrived to measure activities of daily living (ADL) and signal alarms and phone calls for help. The wireless BlueNode System (motion detectors and other sensors not shown, nor the refrigerator):
University Park, PA. is a two and a half drive east and north from McKeesport. Here the Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering (AE) is home of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living, an interdisciplinary group which has the capability to help Bob Walters process the data he obtains and find useful applications.
One place where Bob’s data are applied is in the AE Department’s Immersive Construction (ICon) Lab and now is the time to put on your 3-D glasses:
The principals at University Park are:
Dr. Richard Behr, Director of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living and professor of architectural engineering.
Dr. John Messner, director of the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program (which includes custodianship of the virtual reality lab) and professor of architectural engineering.
[No, I do not know why John and Sonali’s photos came out larger than Rich’s and my wonderful IT guru is asleep. Who wouldn’t be at this hour?]
Sonali Kumar, graduate assistant to John M. and the 3-D modeller who turned me into a virtual reality avatar.
Now more on each:
Dr. Richard Behr has been the prime visionary on all of this. As Director of the multidisciplinary Smart Spaces Center, Rich has been a prime mover in the effort to foster aging in place long before it because a recognized goal. He has focused on retrofitting existing residences so the elderly could continue to live in their traditional homes and in supporting the development of Blueroof and the use of virtual technology in Dr. Messner’s CIC Program.
“These technologies,” Dr. Behr writes, “are often grouped into three broad categories based on their function and value: those which
(1) address safety at the environmental level,
(2) secure health and wellness at the individual level, and
(3) enable social connectedness at the community level .”
Dr. John Messner uses virtual technology to design health care facilities. Shown here are pharmacists from the Washington, D.C. area viewing a Kaiser Permanente health care facility not yet constructed. The pharmacists drove from DC to State College (quite a schlep, try it sometime) to view their future workplace and make important design changes before building began.
Sonali Kumar built this 3-D model of me as an avatar getting ready to take a shower:
Sonali is completing her doctoral work on experienced-based design, which this is. As I keyboard this posting, I frequently glance at her award-winning poster entitled “Experience-Based Design Review of Healthcare Facilities Using An Interactive Prototyping System.” Shown here is one of the experienced-based design consultants Sonali used to research the effectiveness of an interactive prototyping system, Lilian Hutchison, my 87-year old neighbor:
4. Baby Boom Demographics
One out of every four Americans is a part of the Baby Boom generation which the U.S Census Department defines as those 76 million Americans born between 1946, the year after World War II ended, and 1964 when prodigious use of birth control and other factors caused the annual birth rate to fall below 4 million.
The first baby boomers have already begun to retire despite the fact that most jobs in the United States are held by baby boomers. When the members of my generation give up their jobs a whole slew of disaster scenarios appear—whether you go to the U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent website or consult Google’s index and find this expression of impending disaster:
5. Who is the primary audience for this information? Why it is the Ford Foundation, based in New York City which has demonstrated a tradition of providing funding for significantly innovative projects that improve the lives of indigent, elderly, and disabled individuals throughout the world (and the world includes the United States).
Ford has a tradition of distinguished leadership exemplified by McGeorge Bundy, who left Lyndon Johnson’s White House to become Ford’s President.
Today, the President of Ford is Luis Antonio Ubiñas. His official biography notes: “Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Luis was a director at McKinsey & Company, leading the firm’s media practice on the West Coast. He served technology, telecommunications and media companies, working with them to develop and implement strategies and improve operations. Much of his work focused on the opportunities and challenges represented by the growth of Internet and wireless technologies.”
The following is my July/August, 2010 column From Where I Sit for Voices of Central Pennsylvania:
I have been trying to shield my readers (until the appropriate time, like now) from the clear purpose of this monthly column: To foment a peaceful revolution that will hereafter change forever the daily lives of individuals with disabilities and those who are aged. Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines revolution as “a fundamental change in political organization; esp.: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed.”
Non-violent revolution is the way we behave as a nation when fundamental change is required. Anyone who has observed or participated in two of the great revolutions in my lifetime—the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement—knows that the ballot box is the ultimate arbiter of who governs whom. For this year’s election it is necessary to get our elected officials to understand that those of us who cannot walk, see, or hear or who have elderly bodies demand a new kind of government – a government that (given our demographics) will enfranchise us as a movement capable of determining current and future elections.
The problem with a column like this is that it risks a stridency too great to take seriously. People with disabilities such as mine are lucky to live here. State College and Penn State are more wheelchair accessible than any place else I have lived in the 15 years I have been disabled. Central Pennsylvania, especially the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), has provided me with a better array of social services than anyplace else I have lived, including North Carolina, California, Virginia (by reputation, when I was applying to George Mason University) and suburban Philadelphia (which was awful).
I had wanted to write this column as a tribute to my OVR counselor Carla Roser who retired last month. Carla was too modest to consent to an interview, one that would have focused on what made her especially effective and why Central Pennsylvania’s OVR offices, based in Altoona, are so much more efficient than the rest of the Commonwealth and most of the country.
Praise aside, good is not good enough. Happy Valley and its environs may be better than most, but what this area and the nation lacks is a clear understanding of what disabled and elderly individuals need, why we must organize and vote as a bloc, how we should be the people who govern our lives—the principle of self-government is self-government—and why colonial rule (over disability and elderly groups and institutions) must end. The colonials are often kind-hearted-souls who are not disabled or elderly. Some, however, have behaved with a sense of noblesse oblige reminiscent of 19th century European colonialism.
My columns, including what it is like to have a disability, assistive technology for people who are blind and what it is like to travel with a disability, will continue to serve as groundwork. Do not be lulled into thinking that a seemingly gentle column is not part of a clearly stated intention that you understand what kind of power we need and how we must work to get it.
Meanwhile, readers interested in how my thoughts are developing regarding the disability and elderly rights movement are urged to read Robert A. Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate, for background on how our 36th president obtained the power to create the Civil Rights Act and Medicare.
I also refer you to Taylor Branch’s astonishingly well-written and detailed trilogy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, a trilogy that describes how Dr.King used clear strategy to overcome.
Meanwhile, this columnist must exercise some restraint. My original intent for this summer was to list 10 things that need doing in Centre County so we know who our friends are, whom we need to vote out of office, where we need to picket and what we need to boycott.
Instead, I am simply requesting all candidates on the ballot here in State College, regardless of office or party, provide me with a written pledge that they will:
1) Only appear at political events or campaign locations that are wheelchair accessible
2) Use rudimentary Braille (inexpensive) located in a clearly identified location
3) Provide clear (but not necessarily expensive) signage and sign language and other interpreters when practical
Candidates, please send a copy of your pledges to the email address below. September and October issues of this column will list candidates providing pledges and provide comments on those who fail to reply.