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University of Connecticut Assistive Technology Oral History Project

Gregg Vanderheiden

Professor - University of Wisconsin-Madison

Date: March 20, 2009

Gregg Vanderheiden claims he was tricked into the field of disability when as a student lab technician he was told of a young man who was very involved with cerebral palsy.

When he went to the school he said, "I didn't meet a handicapped boy. I met 12-year-old spunky youngster who was a little irreverent in his communication, had a wooden communication board with letters, and would slowly point to a letter and then point to the next. It took forever, but he spelled things out completely and they were funny or witty or wry and I was just completely taken."

He quit his job, assembled a group of students and professionals and created something that could interpret the student's movements and print it out on a FlexiWriter.

A telethon followed during which he discovered that there were a lot of youngsters in the state and beyond similar to the first one. Gathering information on these students for a presentation at a CEC conference led to his first book on the subject.

A grant from the National Science Foundation for "Student-Originated Studies Program" followed which funded students to form a group and do research on a topic over the summer, which was very successful.

This all happened during the first few years of his work. The transcript contains a description of his work during four decades.

Snippet 1: "How did you happen to enter the disability field?" (5:56)

Snippet 2: "The origin of Augmentative communication." (2:40)

Snippet 3: "References to the Adaptive Firmware Card." (1:59)

Download: Full Transcript