Sunday, October 18, 2015

The 40th Anniversary of the Computer Technologies Program (CTP)

 The 40th Anniversary of the Computer Technologies Program (CTP)

Let's get it together!

Forty years ago several executives from I B M went to the California Department of Rehabilitation with the idea of starting a program in California to train people with disabilities to be computer programmers. I B M had started such a program several years prior to that in Virginia. In that program, people with disabilities lived in a rehabilitation hospital for 9 months where they learned programming and then returned to their home community and tried to find a job. The California Department of Rehabilitation thought it was a good idea, but to their credit, thought it would be better for the students to live independently rather than an institution. They decided to give the Center for Independent Living (C I L) in Berkeley a grant to start the C I L Computer Training Program.

Ed Roberts was the Executive Director of C I L. He wanted to hire 2 people with disabilities to run C T P. Scott Luebking and I were the only people with disabilities he could find that had any kind of background in computers, so we were hired. I was 22. Scott, who was 23 years old, was my elder, so he became the Executive Director and I was his deputy. We had 90 days to put the program together. This included finding and renting space, finding students making sure they had housing and transportation, finding equipment including a key punch machine and a business to allow us to run student programs on their computer, and working with the Business Advisory Committee preparing the curriculum and ensuring there would be jobs for graduates. It was 90 days I'll never forget!

Having grown up in a segregated school program just for children with disabilities, I saw myself as an advocate against segregation. It was strange finding myself as the director and teacher of a program for people with disabilities. I knew that the technical part of computer technology students could get from books, college or trade schools. My focus as a teacher was more on the human side, learning how there's always a way to accomplish anything one sets their intent on. I used computers as a metaphor for this. With computers, there's always a way to make that machine do exactly what you want it to do. When it works, you feel great and proud of yourself. When it doesn't work, you know there's always a way to make it work. There are always multiple ways of doing anything and everything. I think I was a hard teacher. Besides having to listen to me lecture 90 minutes a day 5 days a week for 9 months, students had to work on their assignments 5 to 8 hours a day or more. My hope was that they believe that if they could survive C T P, they could do anything!

After 4 years at C T P of telling students about how great it was to work in quote the real world unquote, I thought it would be good for me to go out there for a few years. My intent was to return and be able to say unequivocally that the business world is a great place. My assistant at C T P, Terri Davis, had gotten a job in the Wells Fargo H R department. She helped me get hired as an assembler / COBOL programmer. Planning to be there just a couple of years, I stayed for over 29 years, climbing the corporate ladder slash elevator to being a Senior Vice President.

Today Wells Fargo will be giving C T P a check. Wells Fargo has been a great supporters of C T P from the very beginning. Besides giving financial support, people from Wells Fargo have served on the Business Advisory Committee, lecturers, reviewers, mentors as well as members of the Board of Directors. I am very proud to tell you that the current president of C T P's Board of Directors, Tali Bray, is someone I hired at the Bank, and is one of the best things I did for Wells Fargo.

Along with all these great things, are the lessons we learn from Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo reinforced my belief that it doesn't matter what you look like or where you come from or even what you sound like. If you can get the job done, there's a need for you. Wells Fargo taught me that if people need the skills you have, people are very adaptable. Computer operators quickly learned to ask yes and no questions when one of my systems crashed in the middle of the night. Before they had online access, Wells Fargo sent an armored truck in the middle of the night to transport me to its data center. Wells Fargo reinforced the idea that anything and everything is possible. Given the opportunity to architect the very first 7 by 24 banking system was difficult but lots of fun. Designing and implementing one of the first mobile banking systems was a real kick. These and many other projects proved again and again that there's always a way to accomplish your goals. Wells Fargo also taught me that failing is OK, as long as you don't do it too often. These are the kind of important lessons that partnering with a great company like Wells Fargo can provide for C T P and its students.

So here we are forty years later. C T P is still thriving. We have wonderful laws like the A D A that protect the rights of people with disabilities. We have a beautiful building here at the Ed Roberts Campus. Technology, like the app I'm using to speak to you with today, is making life easier for people with disabilities in many ways. What is next? Don't worry. There's plenty left to do. The reality is that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is no better than it was 40 years ago. Many young adults with disabilities are unable to go to work for fear of losing important government benefits including Personal Assistant Services. We must change antiquated laws preventing millennials with disabilities from reaching their potential. Forty years ago, accessibility was easy to see and fix. Steps, curbs, narrow bathrooms, inaccessible buses are all obvious. Today, although advances in technology is wonderful for people who can access it, but for many, advance technology have created new barriers. Most websites, for example, do not pass accessibility standards. Even Personal Assistant Services are changing. We understand that people with physical disabilities need Personal Assistant Services to eat, dress, drive etc. Do we understand how Personal Assistant Services may help people with intellectual disabilities or people with mental health disabilities be employed? These are some of the challenges facing C T P today.

To the graduates, get out there, find great jobs, work hard and stay connected to C T P. To Alex and the great staff, keep up the wonderful work and create tomorrow's environment that will enable more people with disabilities to work. To the Board of Directors and the Business Advisory Committee, be there for Alex and C T P and continue assisting them creating tomorrow's environment. Most importantly, whatever you do, have fun and Go! Go! Go!