Mark Arrieta
Software Automation and Intelligence Laboratory
Computer Science Department
Tennessee Technological University
Cookeville TN 38505


Srini Ramaswamy
Associate Professor and Chair
Computer Science Department
Tennessee Technological University
Cookeville TN 38505
Phone: (931)-372-3691

I.A. Relevant NSF CERIAS Workshop Learning Objective: IC-3a

With each passing moment, Patrick can feel the intensity of his heartbeat escalading. He has experienced what has been an almost sudden shift in emotion. What had been for many weeks an eager anticipation has now turned to a rapidly increasing anxiety. Although he had been looking forward to this night for many weeks, he knew that tonight would not be easy. And as the hour draws nearer, the reality of tonight's ceremonies are setting in. He had never been in the spotlight before, but tonight is a representation of just how wonderful change can be.

Three years ago, a night such as this was inconceivable. Patrick was going through an exceptionally difficult time in his life. On the threshold of his teenage years, Patrick had little to look forward to in terms of a future. He was struggling with a level of depression so strong that he had nearly lost his will to live. In fact, his depression so consumed him that he became sick after refusing to eat for days. His anguish permeated beyond his self-erected inner walls that failed to provide much comfort. His mother, too, was suffering. She had dedicated so many years to try to bring some normalcy to his life, and yet as each year passed, the dream seemed to drift further away. With her husband on the road, there was no help, no rest, and little hope.

For Patrick and his mother, these struggles were not new, they had only grown worse. Communication was non-existent, and the distance between the two was growing. This lack of connection had existed even throughout Patrick's childhood, but at that time, there had not been this level of defiance. As a young child, caring for Patrick was difficult; it required his mother's complete attention. For Patrick, life had not been easy, nor would it ever be. He was born with severe cerebral palsy. At the time of his birth, Patrick's parents were told that the severity of his disease would keep him from ever obtaining basic motor skills. They were told that he would not ever be able to walk, talk, or communicate in any way.

By the time that Patrick was thirteen, his mother had become ill herself. Years of tirelessly caring for Patrick without assistance had not only weakened her spirits, but also her body. Her own failing health, which she ignored for years, had become so serious that she could no longer adequately care for her son. Unable to afford to send her son to a special facilities home, she turned to her younger brother, Raymond, who was raising four handicapped children whom he and his wife had adopted. Raymond, who has been very successful in educating his children, had used computers in his home as an educational tool and as a way of providing an outlet by which his children could communicate with others. Upon becoming a part of Raymond's family, Patrick was also taught how to use one of the handicap-accessible computers. The results were astonishing. Within two months, Patrick was sharpening his reading skills: skills that no one had previously been aware that he possessed. However, years of exposure to educational television had provided a foundation upon which he could learn. Fourteen months later, Patrick began writing poems and short stories. After being given an avenue by which he could exercise his mind, it became apparent that Patrick's capacity to learn was remarkable. Accessibility to the Internet had also given him a means by which he could reach out and communicate with others, in particular those who were also physically challenged. A world of hope and promise had been given to Patrick. Educational computer software and an online wealth of information had provided the cultivation for what has turned out to be a wonderfully gifted mind.

Patrick continued to grow academically, and continued to astonish those around him. Writing became not only his passion, but also his greatest talent. Raymond was so impressed by the quality of Patrick's writing that he wrote a letter to the Foundation for Cerebral Palsy Research explaining Patrick's dramatic turn around. Individuals at the foundation were amazed by the story, and after having received copies of some of Patrick's writings, invited Raymond and him to attend the upcoming Achievement Banquet, for which Patrick would be the guest of honor.

...Within the hour, his uncle will speak in his behalf.

I.B. Discussion Questions:

  1. This story expresses a positive impact of computers usage; describe other positive ways in which computers alter the social interactions of people.
  2. In what ways should assurances be made so that financially less fortunate individuals can have access to learning and using technology?