Welcome to our second installment of Conversations on Disability. We hope to feature new conversations on a variety of topics every few months. Please do not let the conversation end. Visit our NHU Community Forum to engage in this and other important conversations with your peers.
Bridging the Digital Divide - A Conversation with Charles, an NHU Computer Recipient
Charles received his computer in December 2004 and has participated in weekly training at NHU since February 2005. Charles is an active volunteer for the Hope Street Ministry, a supportive living environment for people with drug and alcohol dependencies.
NHU: What was your experience on computers before you started working with New Horizons Un-Limited.
Charles: My experience was just basically looking at them, just having some interest but feeling threatened.
NHU: So you had never actually worked on a computer before coming to NHU?
Charles: You know, just tinkering around. I've pretty much been around them in some kind of way, like here [at the ministry] or working. They were around, but I didn't work on them. I just would sit down, just like a child, with a piano, just to tinker.
NHU: Do you think if you would not have heard about NHU that you would have pursued computer training?
Charles: Probably so.
NHU: Do you think you would have been able to get a computer for your home?
Charles: In time, but at the moment no. Being on limited income, you know I don't get paid here [at the ministry].
NHU: So, you would have had to really plan and save.
NHU: How many hours do you use the computer a week?
Charles: 15-16 hrs per week, usually about 2-3 hours per day.
NHU: Can you tell me a little bit more about what you use the computer for?
Charles: I use the computer to get an idea of how the residents here [at the ministry] are attending meetings. I help out in the office as far as completing forms. The inventory. Just seeking and searching out new ideas to help the ministry.
NHU: How do you use the computer for personal reasons?
Charles: As a matter of fact just here yesterday, Minister Massey, in the office, she was feeling some lower back pain and I went on the Internet to find some information that might help her better understand what was going on with her back. I went to a site and found information on back pain and nerves and printed it out and gave it to her. She's come to me before on different things that she wants to know. As a matter of fact it's been quite often and I just don't keep up with all of them.
Now I can just go to a site and find what she needs or what I need and print it out. It's just easy access to information. I'm slowly beginning to learn how to do that more and more and I finally found that the more descriptive I am, with fewer words, it will get me where I'm wanting to go.
NHU: Do you still use the Internet to keep in touch with family?
Charles: Yes, I'm communicating with them on the e-mail.
NHU: Do you think that e-mail is helping you stay in touch better with your family than before?
Charles: Oh, I know so. I know so. It's almost like I can reach out and touch them. I mean, you know it's marvelous. Oh look at me using the word marvelous. That too, I'm learning more about typing and there's a word game on here and you know I'm building up my vocabulary.
NHU: So do you think your typing is coming along pretty good now?
Charles: Oh yes, it's surprising. You know, this is one of those things that sometimes you do and you surprise yourself. Especially when I'm not looking at any copy, it's awesome. But you know, when I have to look up, it takes a little longer.
NHU: Do you think that the computer has helped you accomplish any personal goals?
Charles: Personally, I joke and kid about my age. I'm going to be 59 years old and you know, I thought that I was over the hill. Just because I am not as physically able to do things. Just because your legs and arms aren't working you can still be of value. You can always do something. Just because I'm not working physically, that doesn't mean that I can't do anything mentally.
Before the computer, I didn't think that there would be too much I could do, because my days of lifting were over. But now I feel comfortable with being able to possibly pursue the job force. You know something oriented to computers. I'm improving my vocabulary and self esteem. This is a terrible thing to say, but I'm feeling like something of an expert.
NHU: You mentioned that the computer had helped your self-esteem. How do you think it helped your self esteem?
I think it helped because once you learn, the more important you feel. It's a good feeling to pick up things that are good to know. And then, you know, eventually it's going to be something that is part of your everyday life. Computers are just becoming more advanced. If you don't keep up and learn something about them, you're going to get lost in the shuffle.
I mean computers are everywhere. Even when you go and get a soda out of a machine, these things are programmed now and the new stove [I just received]. It isn't like you just turn the knob, you have to punch buttons that are programmed. The more you know about computers I think the more you are going to be able to stay in tune with what's going on in the world.
NHU: You mentioned that you might pursue employment. Is that something that you are planning to do for sure or is that just something that you are just thinking about.
Charles: It's just a thought. Right now I'm volunteering with the ministry. I'm not seeking advancement for money. I'm content. But I do know, the more and more I know about computers, the more useful I feel. Not everyone in recovery is uneducated. There are some people that are extremely educated and they need to have somebody they can confer with. When somebody's mind is up here and somebody else's is down here, they all can't comprehend. So if you can stay on the same level or the same playing field…you can relate to more people I think.
NHU: How do you think you would sum up your experience with the computer so far?
The computer is an instrument to give a person motivation to learn. It doesn't mean life is over just because you can't do certain things. You can still use your mind. I use to do a lot of things that I would have to spend a lot of time on. But with the computer, I'm finding out how to do it in half the time. In the process, you feel you can still do meaningful things.
NHU: If you had somebody come up to you that was petrified of a computer, what would you tell them?
Charles: I would tell them that the computer is a beautiful thing for your self esteem. To make a lift in your life. Just trying to find something that will motivate you or educate you. Technology is going to continue to grow. It's going to be necessary to learn the computer. Even just basic knowledge. Then, once you get the basic knowledge, it's going to pull you in and then you'll go on and get more. That's it, just that it is going to be an uplift in your life.
To be honest I don't know what I'd be doing. Some evenings, if I'm sitting around with an idle mind I'd just click on the computer. It takes me on a journey. It will take you on a journey into yourself and who better to know than yourself.
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