CIC IT Accessibility Usability Conference, Monday, 6/13/11, 7:00pm - Keynote
Todd Schwanke (McBurney Disability Resource Center): Thank you all for coming
tonight to the keynote presentation for the 2011 IT Accessibility and Usability Conference. I can
see that we have representatives from across campus and across the community. It's wonderful
to have such a large turnout.
CIC stands for Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and is the consortium of the Big Ten
member universities plus the University of Chicago. Most of these campuses are represented
here today for this 2-day event. First, I'd like to extend a number of thank yous for the support
in planning for this conference. Ken Frazier, and the campus libraries, Brian Rust, Joanne Berg,
in the Division of Information Technology or DoIT, Cathy Trueba, the McBurney Disability
Resource Center, the campus Accessibility and Usability Committee, the conference committee
comprised of Elizabeth Curran of DoIT, Carrie Nelson of the College Library, Jayla Smith, an ITA
(Information Technology Academy) intern at DoIT, and the conference chair Alice Anderson, of
DoIT. Finally the attendees and many others who have been had a role in putting this event
Our keynote speaker tonight is Dr. Timothy Cordes. He is currently a resident in psychiatry at
the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic at the west end of campus. Dr. Cordes has an
array of honors and titles ranging from son, brother, husband, father, author, inventor, and
trailblazing physician. He wrote a computer program creatively called TiMMol that replicates
3D images using a range of audio tones and spatial cues, allowing proteins to be visualized. Dr.
Cordes was valedictorian of his class at the university of Notre Dame in 1998, and was accepted
in to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Science training
program, completing the notoriously challenging sequence that requires a student to finish
both Medical School and a Ph.D. level research program.
Over the years, Dr. Cordes also earned black belts in jujitsu and tae kwon do and carried the
Olympic torch during its cross-country journey to the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Dr. Cordes
is here to share his perspectives in a presentation called, How I see I.T (IT) or the double
meaning, How I See it.
Please join me in warmly welcoming Dr. Timothy Cordes.
Dr. Tim Cordes: Thank you. I'm gratified and honored to be here. This is quite an
opportunity. You know, reflecting back on how I he see it, and how I see I.T., I thought back to
a time when I was in a primary care clinic. I was introduced to a child as a medical student, and
of course when they hear you're a student, the next question out of their mouth is what grade
are you in? So I had to do some quick mental math, and the best I could come up with was the
24th grade. He said, well, boy, you must be smart. I said no, just experienced. So I'm well
beyond the 24th grade now, but I've accumulated a lot of experience in technology, working
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out accommodations, and it's my chance, it’s my honor, and my privilege to give you some of
the ideas of the things I learned along the way. While I was doing that, the technology
landscape went and changed under me. You guys remember one of these?
When I started out this journey, we used rotary phones that were connected by wires to walls,
and if you wanted to call somebody you had to know where they physically would be at a
particular time. For a blind person this was wholly accessible out of the box. It was the first
digital, assuming you use your first digit to dial – right? Then we got things like iPhones, which
in addition to doing voice, which I hear they do, you can use face time for video, text message,
and a whole lot of other things, which incidentally, through the efforts of Apple, is nearly
accessible out of the box.
Speaking of Apple, I began this journey with as Apple II, 128 kilobytes of total memory. You
could fit 256 kilobytes on a floppy disk, and if you were crafty, you could punch the disk and put
another 256 on the backside. I used a device called a DP10, which presented large, magnified
print on the screen; it was a color screen, as long as your favorite color was green.
Then we moved on to portable computing. This is the first MS DOS machine I ran. It was a 15-
pound laptop with three hours of battery life. The batteries weighed about one and a half
pounds each that was about a pound per hour of battery. Had a 40-megabyte hard drive, which
is smaller than any flash drive you could buy today, but was powerful enough, and actually a
screamer for the time with blazing 16-megahertz processor. I ran JAWS, which was around
then, and another program called ZoomText, which remains around.
Then you go to today. The bottom of the food chain – a dual core Netbook – eight hours of
battery life. Its total weight is about the weight of the batteries of the laptop I started with-
explosive changes in technology. So I’d read with an Arkenstone Reader back in the early 90’s.
This was a desktop with special hardware and software with did optical character recognition.
It was liberating to take a book from the library and put it down on the scanner and have
something readable. Things change. Canon invented portable scanners, a 3 pound scanner that
I could throw in my backpack along with my laptop and be able to read and process text
anywhere. Tremendous change. Then you wind up with things like a Nokia N82 smart phone,
which can run good scanner software with its 5-megapixel camera and quality flash. A lot of
other smart phone platforms can do this now too. Suddenly reading was in your pocket, not
just on your desk, not just in your backpack. A game-changer.
Remember these? Back from the 1980s and earlier, we used paper maps. You had plan out
where you were going. You had to think ahead. Combine what you saw on the map with what
you saw around you, right? Now we're used to receiving directions from satellites. Incredibly
powerful, but change is how we see the world and how we relate to it. All this was going on
while I was proceeding to the 24th grade and beyond.
So I could regale you of tales of hi-jinx at 2400 baud, or how I might have set up this compiler or
that X-Windows environment. It's happening. But the technology changes so fast, yet the
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So what I plan to do is present some concepts of how we think about accessibility, and then
illustrate them in action, and give you some common pitfalls which I've seen along the way.
So this is what you might consider the standard model of accessibility. It's an if-then statement.
If the student minus the disability plus the accommodation is greater than or equal to the task,
the task is accessible. If not, it isn't. It has simplicity to it; it provides a framework. It provides a
common basis to understand and to converse, and to start to think about the combinations and
it has the seemingly simplicity of an evaluative expression.
But what's wrong with this model? First of all, it's static. It's one snapshot in time, saying that if
you weigh these factors at one time, you'll know the answer about accessibility. That denies
the notion that adaptation can be made on the fly.
When I was a medical student in clinics, I was asked to perform a musculoskeletal exam. So
that’s knowing how the joints and muscles and bones work in the body to assess for pathology.
Nobody could have told me walking in how to do that. But in collaboration with primary care
doctors, and orthopedists, I developed a way by putting my hands in specific places on joints,
and having people go through motions. So you can learn on the fly. I'm still learning. I’ve
learned of a blind rehab doc who follows his patient down the hallway by holding their hips so
he can detect gait abnormalities. That wasn't present when I first started, and wouldn't have
been captured in a static picture.
The next thing it does, it assumes disability is a negative. There was a minus sign in that
expression. That may or may not be the case. You know, I know of a young woman who works
for the FBI. Her job is the forensic dissection of audio, and she happens to be blind. It's her job
to figure out in a clip of audio whether the M16 or AK-47 fired first. I'd be hard pressed to say
her visual disability slows her down or impairs her. The minus sign there might not be
warranted. The next thing it does this places a lot, and there needs to be a lot, but it places a
lot of emphasis on the student. What that negates is the notion that the faculty or staff can
play a really pivotal role too. They have wonderful ideas. They may not know the technology,
but they know the subject matter, and that can make all the difference.
When I was in medical school we had a two-week anesthesiology rotation. During that time,
we're expected to be able to put a breathing tube down the throat of a living of a living person.
So I arrived on the first day and one of the physicians said to me, Tim, I know how you're going
to intubate. I said, great, wow, this is news to me. I don't have a clue. He had a device called a
fast track, which is sort of a skeleton that guides into the tracheal tube and the anesthesia
monitor machines have a way of playing tones to let you know the carbon dioxide level in the
expired air. And the carbon dioxide level lets you know whether your tube is in the right place.
So we brought the patient in. I had practiced on a mannequin. I put the mask over the patient’s
mouth, and with my other hand squeezed the bag driving pure oxygen in to their lungs. And
then it came time. I lifted the mask off. I placed the fast track, snaked the tracheal tube
through, and heard the [whistling] of the CO2 monitor. I had the tube in the place. Then I
realized it was time for me to breathe before I passed out.
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But that isn't captured by this sort of standard model. The faculty, their insight, their
experience and knowledge of the field was critical, and it made all the difference in that
situation, and made the difference in a lot of other situations as well.
And the other notion of this is that this model essentially requires omniscience. The ability to
quantify all these variables, to weigh the effects the strengths of the student, the effects of the
disability, the effects of the accommodations, and to totally understand the task at hand. For
me, I think of that as a feat of ego.
When I was very young, I was nearly a victim of this computational model. My parents took
their young blind son to the doctors at a large academic medical center. The doctors
performed a thorough physical exam. They provided a diagnosis. But they didn't stop there.
They had run the variables, and they computed out all the things that I wouldn't be able to do,
and they told my parents of that. Now my mother says she was heart broken, and she cried all
the way home. Then she decided not to listen. She forgot everything they told her. See, when
the model isn't spitting out the data that you think it ought to, you’ve got to check your model.
Intuitively she knew that that computational model wasn't an efficient or a right way to think
about accommodations. So what is?
I pose a journey model. You’ve got a faculty member, a student. They're in different places.
They're trying to reach each other. Each of them carries something with them, skills, hang-ups,
strengths, and weaknesses. But what this does is this acknowledges that question of
accessibility and questions of accommodations come down to people, and they come down to
the people's strengths, weaknesses, their choices, their hang-ups, and their actions. Now our
attitudes are critical for this. Let me give you a couple of examples of how attitude matters.
I was a teenager in a high school play, and my stage directions called for me to walk to center
stage, walk down a railing-less stairway and out of the auditorium. The logical way to do that
was with my Seeing Eye dog Electra. I finished my line, goodbye Mr. Robinson, and I walked to
center stage, down and out of the auditorium. My mother was watching that from the
audience, and she told me afterwards, I overheard somebody who said, I think I saw this play
before, but I don't remember the dog.
So that person’s attitude, what they brought with them was very different than what some
other people would have. Another time I was in the pediatric clinic, and I just finished
examining a child. I happened to know this child's father. And the father told me; he said my
son said it went fine, it’s just when we got out, he said, what's the dog for? He was a blank
slate. We all carry these attitudes, these things with us, which we can miss if we stay in the
more prosaic computational model.
The other thing the journey model acknowledges, is that they are not there yet, they haven’t
met, but the goal is to meet somewhere in the middle. It's a process, and not a static
assessment. And it acknowledges the uncertainty. Students have gaps in what they know.
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That's why they're students. Learning is about figuring out you can do things you didn’t know
you could. If you weigh everything at the outset, you're never going to capture that. Likewise it
acknowledges the possibility that faculty can be a learner too. So just to emphasize, the journey
model basically embraces the uncertainty, right? The possibility, that fertile ground where
reality coalesces. It acknowledges that it's a process, and it allows the student to act as
teacher, and the teacher to act as student.
So my journey took me to the university of Notre Dame. And before I set foot in a classroom, I
gathered around in a conference room with all the representative faculty members from the
departments I would study under. They sat on one side of the table, my family and I sat on the
other, and my dog tucked underneath. The head of the biology department said, he opened a
book, Purvis et al, and pointed to a picture of the kidney, and he slid that book across the table,
and he said to my father, how is he going to learn that? It sounds like a challenge. But if you
think about it in retrospect it's the statement ‘teach me’ I don't know. How is he going to learn
that? And so in the way he was placing himself in the role of the student, recognizing the gap in
his knowledge, and asking for help in filling it, in the ways he did. So I told Dr. Duman about
technology. We told him about - what’s he's asking, what's in your tool kit, right? So I told him
about the fundamentals of recorded audio, Braille, computers at that time. For every disability
there are these sorts of fundamentals.
You know, I just recently talked to a young man with a visual impairment. He was going off to
college, and told me how he never learned Braille because he was more of an audio learner.
But one thing I’ve learned along the way is you can't use a tool you don't have. We need to be
careful about acquiring, and building a broad base of tools that let us seek accessibility. And
our conception of tools is dynamic. When I went off to college, our information technology
expert in Iowa told me, that the most efficient way for a blind person to read text is with a
human reader. That seems ludicrous now. But at the time, that was the dogma; tens of
thousands of scanned pages, and countless more pages of electronic text, have proven that
wrong. But we have to be dynamic and able to change our thought process. We need the
humility to realize when we're wrong and the confidence to try something else.
You know, when we think about humility and confidence, people have mentioned that the
confidence that it may have take for me to do some of some of the things I've done. But I turn
that around. I think it takes arrogance to declare things impossible. It's only with humility that
we open our selves to possibility. It's only with humility that we open our selves to uncertainty.
And it's only with humility that we commit our selves to these journeys that gather tools, we
seek and change our mind that we grow. Churchill sort of described this process best. He said
success is going from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. When we gather tools,
we need to keep that in mind.
Those are the tools I use. But sometimes you have to gather new tools. So I was in organic
chemistry, and there was a series of line drawings, which are sort of a chemical fingerprint. I
needed to be able to interpret that so I could identify chemical structures. There wasn't a
standard tool out of the box for this. So I thought back, and recalled an old tool called an
optacon, which is pictured here. Basically what an optacon is a small camera attached to a
vibrating pin display that shows to the person's finger, what that camera is seeing directly in
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black and white, and there's an insert showing what the camera might be looking at. So I went
back, the optacon is a very old tool, back to the early '70s, but the one I use is older than I am,
but it was the right tool for the job. And by thinking back, by finding an old tool it was what I
There's sometimes a cogent argument for simplicity. Everything we let a machine do for us is
one more thing we're not doing for ourselves. The optacon ensures that someone is
interpreting their own data in the most raw fashion they can. So how did I learn about the
optacon? Well, I thought back to a book I had read called White Coat White Cane written by a
blind physician named Dave Hartman, who I'm in touch with now. It described how he used the
optacon to look at EKGs and x-rays in medical school.
When I got to medical school and needed to look at x-rays and EKGs, I already had acquired and
used the tool I needed to solve the problem. I had thought back to a book back then. But now
we have a tremendous ability to network, to use the information technologies to learn what is
working for people and to learn what isn't. When I went to look for a new smart phone when I
got my iPhone I looked. And there was information out there on the web, what's working, and
what isn't. You know, blind folks in the communities have understandings of these
technologies. So we can use the disabled community as a resource to answer these questions.
But Google is only one thing. We can't get stuck in Google-think, right? Thinking deeply about
a problem is different than searching for solutions other people have found. There are
profound questions and profound answers and important questions and important answers,
which can't be answered in this way. We need to be able to return to fundamentals at times to
answer these questions. And, you know, that's -- that's the case.
When I was in Katrina Forest’s laboratory here on campus, it is a structural protein
crystallography laboratory. The technique is you bombard a crystal with x-rays, and you collect
the x-rays, which are scattered off the crystal. You can use that information to determine the
three dimensional shape of a protein. Now the shape of a protein essentially determines its
function. It puts the appropriate atoms and appropriate side chains in the places they need to
be to carry out their function. So I was in this laboratory, and I had a need to better understand
the protein structures I was working with. So when you can't find the tools, and the tools aren't
there, sometimes you need to reach back to your fundamentals and invent them.
So I invented, with the help of people in the laboratory, a program called TIMMol. It started
out quite simply enough. I wanted to know what particular atoms were in a particular space, a
three-dimensional space. It's fundamentally a database problem. I had some programming I
had added that to my toolbox. I wrote a simple set of routines in Pearl that let me query in a
sense by moving a cursor through space, and tell me what atoms were there, and what was
their location. Simple enough. But I said to myself, what about getting a more global, overall
sense of the protein. And that was better addressed through the audio cues. So I thought
back. I had composed electronic music in the past, that exposure to MIDI, which is a way of
programming music. I reached back in that toolbox. I had also heard of a blind chemist who
had written software to interpret infrared spectra using audio tones. That is a two dimensional
problem, not a three-dimensional problem, but it gave me ideas. Even in the back of my head
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was that carbon dioxide monitor from the surgical suites, chiming up and down to let me know
carbon dioxide levels. To keep it simple for myself and for other people, I developed a pseudo
three-dimensional soundscape using your left and right ears as one axis, increasing and
decreasing pitch as another, and louder and softer as the third. By putting these together and
using different instrument tones for different kinds of atoms, you can hear the location in
space; that the textual information you’ve been presented is at. So that’s fine, it helps me
understand, helps me learn.
What about going the other way? So we, with the help of Dr. Forest and Britt Carlson, another
researcher involved in education, we developed a graphical way to hook TIMMol up to a
graphic user interface, so that people with vision could see what was actually going on in
So when the tools aren't there, sometimes you have to cobble them together from the skills
you do have, whether that's in my case music and programming, mainly, and build something
new. And not get trapped when you don't find the answer at the top hit in your Google search.
So after my time at Notre Dame using those tools, I told that professor about it on the first day,
I ran into him on campus the next semester, and after he told me to get a hair cut because I
looked like a hippie, he said, I wonder if I gave all the other students dark glasses, if they would
be able to do what you do. We're going to do a little thought experiment. You have to listen or
read the transcription.
So the technology in a way that is easiest, it's concrete, things we can point to, things we can
acquire, things we can hold in our hand or easily demonstrate. But the attitudes, those are
sometimes our most important tools. We, in a sense are our most important tool. So actually I
looked this up - accessibility is capable of being reached. I figured I'd want to know the
definition before I talked about this stuff. What that implies to me is a striving, a reaching. It’s
not dumped in your lap. You have to reach for it.
I think, I'll get in trouble here, but we think of a restaurant with a full course menu as
accessible. But the actual answer may be a well-stocked kitchen with support and help and all
the tools you need. Life isn't what you want it to be; it's what you make it. So I think keeping
the idea of capable of being reached in mind, when we think about accessibility helps us. It
acknowledges that there's hard work involved in life, not just accessibility.
When I was a freshman at Notre Dame, our first biological lab outing, we went for sample
collecting in a wild area. So I safely attached my Seeing Eye dog to a tree on the bank and
jumped in the stream with my waders on and held my net in the ice-cold water. It was a clear
statement that I acknowledge that there's hard work here, but I'm here to stay. And this is
what accessibility is about to me. You know, Thomas Edison, I think he says this best. He said
most people miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls, and it looks like work. So when
we think about accessibility, we have to fundamentally acknowledge that there's work involved.
So I worked -- I put together a resume. I did research. I studied hard at the University of Notre
Dame. And I put together an application. And I was talking to one of my professors about
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medical school. He said, you know, Tim, have you ever thought about the University of
Wisconsin? It was another of those moments. No, I hadn't. But why not, right? It's our ability
to say why not that can make all the difference. When we’re mountain climbing, when we
reach for that next handhold, that can be critical, and this ability to extend ourselves beyond
our comfort zone comes up again and again and again in accessibility.
You know, we live in a risk-averse society. We're wrapped in air bags in our cars. Children wear
helmets for everything. My son had a birthday party recently, and we bought a piñata, and I
was amazed to find this wasn’t the kind of piñata you actually hit. They actually design these so
you pull strings, and the candy falls out. You didn't even have to use the physically aggressive
act of hitting the piñata, right? So things are so safe that we lose sight of the fact that risk, that
taking these chances can be the difference between access and not.
So I took some chances. I put myself out there. I applied for medical school. And you know, I
was about ready to give up. I had begun making my plans to be a DJ in northern Alaska. A
different kind of why not. So I was heading back, it was a Saturday, I remember this clearly, I
was heading back to my dorm room to start recording my audio, and I received a call from Brad
Schwartz of the MD PhD program here. He could see a way. John Lennon said a dream we
dream alone is a dream, but a dream we dream together is a reality. So when we take these
risks, when we take these chances, often we're asking other people to take the chances with us,
and that can make all the difference. I have had great support from faculty at two institutions
as well as support from the Iowa Department for the Blind. So making these things happen is a
matter of -- it's a joint effort, right?
So the other thing you do when you sign on with a community like that, you can eliminate some
of the uncertainty by saying to yourself, once you decide something will be done, it's just
becomes a matter of how. So you’ve eliminated the cognitive load of figuring out whether or
not this can be done, and just get down to work. My father was an engineer. He taught me
So how did we do it? Well, anatomy in medical school was by touch. I identified organs I felt in
the body. Identified that all by touch. We used raised line drawings to show concepts of
physiology; both manually created and with the puffy paper photocopy process. We used text-
based solutions for the majority of the content, actually, which was given in modules or
electronic format. We used reference CDs. That'll date myself. Now, even the drug reference
software that physicians carry is easily accessible on platforms like smart phones and iPhones.
When it came to the clinic, I developed some techniques on the fly, like a musculoskeletal exam
we described. I worked with human readers for elements of visual things that couldn't be
accomplished at the time like reading a handwritten chart. Now things are in the electronic
medical record, and that need has greatly diminished. So I scrubbed into surgery. I identified
organs in the belly of living, breathing human beings just as other medical students did. I
caught babies, and I treasured it, and worked through it as a team. It could be done. So that's
the kind of thing that's possible.
But I still recall the first day when I went to medical school. I was in Gross Anatomy. I had been
dissecting in the morning, and had the smell of the preservative on my hands, despite my best
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chances and work at washing. I sat down for lunch with my sandwich, and an older student
came up to me, and he said why are you here! I mumbled with a mouthful of sandwich, I think
this is where you are supposed to eat your lunch. If it not, maybe you could tell me where I
should go. That is not what he was asking, right? He wanted to know why I thought I should be
a physician or be in the place he was. He was providing an example of resistance. So he's kind
of telling us about the pitfalls, right? The things that stand in the way of what we need to
There's always a dynamic tension between the possible and the actual. Right? And you don't
want to be just grabbing and gullible and taking in every new idea. So there's some healthy
resistance. Where does this resistance come from? The first place I think it comes from is the
personal experience fallacy. For blind people it goes like this. If I can't close my eyes and do X,
then you must not be able to either. There are versions of this for every disability. It's getting
sucked into the belief in one's own personal experience.
I was interviewing for a residency out east, and I was meeting with the chair. We started with
the pleasantries. Then he said to me, how are you going to assess a psychiatric patient without
looking at them? I took a breath, because I knew this was going to be long one. I said well, I
can tell you're not looking at me and you're reading your email right now. His chair spun
around and suddenly I had his full attention. How? What do you mean? How did you - teach
me? I converted that moment into a ‘teach me’ moment. It actually was better than you think.
I provided him with the information, and an avenue into being taught about what he really
wanted to know. I helped break him out of that personal experience trap. We all do that. And
the journey model, which I proposed acknowledges that we bring that stuff with us. If we don't
know that we're going to get caught off guard.
So another -- another form of resistance that -- this is the first time I've actually given this
speech from Braille display. It's IT in action. The other common pitfall we run into is confusing
the medium with the message. Let me tell you what that means.
When the biology chair at the University of Notre Dame slid that picture of a kidney across the
table, he was guilty of that. How electrolytes flow in a kidney has very little, if anything, to do
with a two dimensional picture. The picture has nothing to do with what your kidney does. It's
just a common way of to represent it in a way that most people can understand. It’s the same
thing with protein structures. For just about every protein, no one has ever seen a single
protein. They're too small. They are smaller than a wavelength of light. But what people do,
people with vision, create models, and those models tend to be interchanged with reality. But
in a grander sense, an audio description of a protein, if it conveys the same information in a
different way is no less a way. So this way of confusing the medium and message happens all
Another one that I've come into frequently is assessing a psychiatric patient. There's nothing
magical about photons leaving a light source, bouncing off a patient, and a subset of those
photons hitting a retina and going to a human brain and understanding what is going on in a
psychiatric patient. When I see a psychiatric patient I walk with them, I sit with them, I listen to
how their body moves. I listen to their clothing, where their voice is directed. I listen to what
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they say of course, and I listen to the tone of their voice. Your mother may have told you, put
on a happy face. Did she ever tell you to put on a happy voice? No. So it's another example
where we tend to confuse the medium and the message. And when that happens, what we
need to do is return to our fundamentals. What is this task really about? What is this question
really about? So those are two common pitfalls. And they are examples of resistance.
The thing about resistance is, I often say this, if everybody likes what you're doing, you're
probably not doing anything worthwhile. The easy life is boring; it leads to complacency and it
leads to stagnation. Resistance from whatever source keeps us honest. Churchill explains this,
he says a kite flies the highest against the wind, and resistance provides that wind. So just as we
build ourselves through resistance training, we build our muscles; we can build ourselves
through careful work against resistance. Why are you here? That's what the med student
asked me. But it's a reminder to all of us, why are we here? What's our purpose? What's
driving us, right?
Victor Frankel was a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi persecution. What he saw with the
people he lived with, and survived with, was that a purpose made all the difference. It was
literally a matter of life and death. So when we hear that - why are you here? we can retool
that as a tool to keep our mind on our purpose as we seek accessibility and as we seek
progress. Buried in that statement even, is the statement you are here. You're not somewhere
else. You're not what happened to you last week; you are not what is going to happen
tomorrow. You are here. So when we solve these problems, we solve these problems with the
tools we have. The only way to reach the future that we want is through dynamic engagement
in the present. So why are you here can remind us of that.
So we're on a journey whether we acknowledge it or not. We live in amazing times. Our
technical abilities are amazing. They're the things of science fiction 20-30 years ago, and many
of the technical barriers have fallen from access, at least in the blindness perspective. We don't
need hardware to make synthetic speech. I found Macintoshes come out of the box with
incredible screen access software. Many of those technical barriers are just gone. Plenty
remain, for sure. But what we cannot forget with the blossoming of technologies is that our
minds and our hearts, our dreams and our hopes, our shared purpose, our shared risk, are
infinitely more powerful. So accepting the shared journey, accepting the risk, accepting all that
we carry with us, we can get there. Thanks.
I imagine we have time and I'm happy to entertain questions.
>> Would you speak to some of the experiences and factors that helped you develop your
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>> Well, I've been incredibly lucky for one thing. I was telling Alice this earlier, my parents were
an interesting combination of my father the problem solving engineer, and my mother the
extremely supportive, emotionally helpful one. So I had great sisters, and the luck and good
fortune to work with great faculty and people who believed in me, when there's less evidence
you should. So those were all very helpful.
>> Any questions?
>> Could you just repeat, and make sure I heard it correct. I was looking for it on the screen.
Did you say this is the first time you've given a presentation using Braille?
>> Close, a Braille display. I've actually been very old school in using 3 by 5 index cards until to
>> Thank you.
>> It's my rotary phone days, I think.
>> I thought it was really interesting the way that you turned around some challenging
situations, and rather than perhaps taking offense or being defensive to them, you were able to
turn them into what you call teaching moments. And there's a really powerful message about
what sort of preconceptions people have, and with the right response you can have, they can
be shaken out of their status quo, and perceive things in a new way. So that's a really powerful
thing that I got from your talk. I was wondering if there was a particular moment or a time or
was it a gradual realization that you had that ability to change person's perceptions, and in a
sense disarm them to they'd have better understanding.
>> It's no accident that I studied jujitsu. When you think about that, it's a martial art like that is
a redirection of force away from you in a way that allows you some advantage. And whether
that's, you know, verbally or physically, it's the notion, you know, it also comes from experience
in psychiatry. A person is not just reacting to you; they are reacting to everything they bring
with them. When you acknowledge that, and recognize it, it gives you room to maneuver in a
way that ideally will be good for both of you.
>> I was going to ask you a little bit, to talk about jujitsu and taekwondo do, when you got into
it, what was that like?
Keynote: Tim Cordes Page 11 of 14 8/7/2011
>> Let me try to set the scene. I had a very energetic German Sheppard Seeing Eye dog. I went
in the first day and helped her stay in the corner with her leash, and they began to do drills.
She began to bark to warn me of the danger. She was barking in the corner, and the sensei
came up, and said are you sure this is what you want to do? I told him yes, and they supported
me. There was a stretch of half a year where a particular fall made me bleed every week in
practice. I put in the time, and actually bled and sweat and went through the process and
earned my stripes. The proudest moment I had in jujitsu was after you receive your black belt;
other students are allowed to throw you in any way they see fit. I had developed, made a
move, my trademark. You lift your opponent up to the level of your hips, and then you spin. If
you're nice you stop and let them drop. One of my fellow martial artists, very tall guy, 6'4", had
me on his hips, and he spun and spun and spun, and let go. As I'm sailing through the air
waiting for my inevitable reunion with gravity and the ground, I reached the level I was just
another martial artist, and he was not pulling his punches, and he was throwing me like he
would throw anybody else. That is one of the things jujitsu, among others, taught me.
>> Have you ever used the BrailleNote?
>> BrailleNote? No, I haven't actually.
>> I have two separate questions. One is about what were you thinking about with your career
with an M. D. Ph.D., and the second question is on your wish list what is the technology entity
that you would like to see developed?
>> Oh, boy. M.D. Ph.D., right now I'm going to train in addiction psychiatry. I think the
research side may present itself in clinical studies or quality improvement. It's the same thing I
just talked about. We ask why do we do what we did, and how do we do it better? That is
where that is going to lead me. The wish list, you know, it's hard to say. I think a lot, you know,
a lot of the problems that I've had in the past, you know, GPS navigation, hand held devices-
done, hand held scanner-done, have been done. But I think the sort of reality scan visual
processing with the ability to describe what's in a visual field in a portable camera may be
amazing. Other than that, I think it's just keeping up with the ride that everybody else is on is
on my wish list.
>> Dr. Cordes, does your optacon still work?
>> Sorry, can you repeat that?
Keynote: Tim Cordes Page 12 of 14 8/7/2011
>> Does your optacon still work?
>> Yes, it does. It has a mild short in some of the lower pixels, and if anyone knows how to fix
one, I’d love to hear, but yeah, it does. It's on my desk at work. It's kind of the light saber of
accessibility. It's and old tool but it’s often more powerful than modern blasters.
>> I understand those are no longer made. Has there been something that's replaced that
>> Not really, no. It could be done so well, so well today. But nobody is particularly interested.
Honestly, if you want to read a book, there's a scanner. That's what the optacon was
developed for. It found its niche in people like me. But we weren't what optacon was targeted
at. I don’t think there is a market for it, honestly. I would love if somebody did it, but I'm not
holding my breath. Just hold my breath that mine won’t give out, right?
>> I was wondering if you could give me insights as far as a situation. I'm from a community
college, and I work in the office for students with disabilities. We're forever discussing students
with faculty, introducing new technology. One of the most difficult departments that we work
with, unfortunately, is the nursing department. I guess the bread and butter of the community
college I come from. They have a lot of good nurses that graduate from our school. But we
found that the faculty are very resistant to anybody that works with our office. Whether it's
something they say to us directly or to the student directly, we try to be as diplomatic with
them as we can, but how would you handle this?
>> Yeah, that's a tough spot, it really is. I mean, I know there are visually -- various disabilities,
there are nurses with all kinds of disabilities who are out nursing. If there's a way to connect
them, the American Foundation for the Blind has a jobs bank. You can look up particular
professions. So there might be a way to put them in contact, try to educate them. But it's
really hard. I've told you a lot of the upsides. There's a particular search at the University that
goes off on myself as a medical student, and I have never worked with him, but he has told
other medical students what he thought about me. So there are people like this. Best we can
do is we educate when we can, and steer our course away when we have to and just keep
>> Thank you.
>> Any other questions?
Keynote: Tim Cordes Page 13 of 14 8/7/2011
>> If not, another round of applause
Dr. Tim Cordes can be reached for consulting or speaking engagements via email at Timothy
Cordes Cordestj@gmail.com or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Timothy-
Keynote: Tim Cordes Page 14 of 14 8/7/2011