My Trip to Google: From Baltimore to Silicon Valley

By Daphni Steffin, Director of LifePrint Management and Assistive TechnologyDaphni-2BSteffin-2B2014

Last month, I was invited, along with 19 other participants from across the US with expertise in Assistive Technology (AT), by The Arc of the United States to attend a 2 day workshop at Google in Silicon Valley, CA. Last year, Google.org made a $1.4 million investment in The Arc’s Tech Toolbox through its Google Impact Challenges: Disabilities grant. Tech Toolbox is an online information space for all things Assistive Technology (AT). The idea behind the project starts with the fact that there are so many apps and technologies out there, but how do we know what has actually worked for others in similar situations, and of equal importance, what hasn’t? People with disabilities, family members, and caregivers are hungry for this information and new solutions are available every day as technology evolves. The vision of the Tech Toolbox is to be the go-to source to find, rate, and review AT solutions.

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Daphni and the other AT experts pose in front of the Google sign.

During the workshop, The Arc US and Google facilitated a series of brainstorming exercises in order to gather as much information from the 20 participants. In one exercise, we were tasked with coming up with different categories of goal areas that AT can help a person with. We had 5 minutes to make a post-it for each way AT can help a person. Then, we took all the post-its and grouped them with other similar post-its. This exercise provided The Arc and Google with several broad goal areas along with specific examples within each.  We completed a similar exercise to identify specific types of devices and apps, as well as many AT stakeholders.

TGoogleDaphni2he vibe around the Googleplex campus was very open, collaborative, and creative. Rather than your typical cubicles and offices, there were open spaces with lounge chairs, comfy couches and booths. There were courtyards with Google-colored tables and chairs for those outdoor meetings, or just to take a break and soak up the California sun. It was a perfect setting for the workshop.

It was an exciting experience to be in the midst of experts in the AT world! At one point, we were asked to describe how we can measure whether AT has worked for someone, and the consensus was that AT has worked if it has helped a person to achieve their goal. Something that hit home for me was when one participant challenged that and said, we can tell AT has worked for someone if it has helped them go beyond their goal and set even higher reaching goals!

 


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