Assistive Technology’s higher purpose

Here’s a wonderful poem that reminded me of the higher purpose that can be fulfilled by assistive technology. No how-to info here, just a refresher on the bigger picture.

A photo of a lake at sunrise, with mist rising off the water. Caption reads: Assistive Technology's higher purpose

A photo of a lake at sunrise, with mist rising off the water. Caption reads: Assistive Technology's higher purpose

First, a disclaimer: this is not a how-to piece. How-to’s and recipes are the the bread-and-butter of this blog, and I hope you find at least some of them useful as you go about your work in assistive technology (AT).

But today is more of a why-to, to see why assistive technology can be so empowering and why many of us have committed our lives to working in this field. Not only that, it’s in poetic form. That might sound weird, or out of place, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

Reflecting on AT’s higher purpose

I encountered this poem over the weekend, while reading Parker Palmer’s book On the Brink of Everything. I’m not a big poem person, but this one resonated with me. It’s really not about assistive technology at all, but somehow it reminded me of why I work in this field.

Assistive technology’s higher purpose is to play a role in helping people live their best lives, whatever that means for them. And the root of that is to enable full personal development, full self-expression, and full authorship over one’s own life, regardless of health condition or bodily impairments.

When used effectively, AT can lower the barriers to this full self-expression, allowing us all to show up in this world as who we really are, as our true selves, able to give our gifts freely to others. The most direct example is AT to support written and spoken communication, but all forms of AT that enable participation and self-realization are part of it. I hope this isn’t too grandiose, but it seems to me like working in assistive technology is one of Palmer’s “big jobs worth doing, jobs like the spread of love, peace, and justice.”

And with that, here’s the poem:

The Poem I Would Have Writ
by Parker J. Palmer

My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

—Henry David Thoreau

The first words are the hardest. Sound
surrounds you in the womb, grows louder
when you’re born. You listen. You know
the day will come when you must speak
words, too — that’s how we make our way
through this trackless landscape called
the world. But how? And what to say?
And what does saying do?

Later, words come easily. You learn
to speak the language of what you
want and need, to help you find a
pathway into and through your life,
to make it clear what you believe,
reach out to friends, find work to do,
heal your wounds, ease your fears,
get chance on chance to give love
and receive. Sometimes words leap
out of you in ways you soon regret —
or in ways so magical you silently
rehearse them, hoping never to forget
how these words came out of the blue,
begging to have life breathed into
them by you. You live a life of words.

Then you learn that first words aren’t
the hardest. The hardest are the last.

There’s so much you want to say,
but time keeps taking time and all your
words away. How to say — amid the
flood of grief and gratitude you feel —
“Thank you!”, or “How beautiful, how
grand!”, or “I’m so glad I survived…”,
or “I was changed forever the day
we two joined hands and lives.”

As you reach for your last words,
you realize, this is it — this ebbing tide
of language called your life, words
trailing into silence, this unfinished poem
you would have writ — had it not been
for the heartache and the gift of all
the years that you’ve been living it.

If you want to read more about what author Parker Palmer said about this poem, check out his On Being column from 2016. I highly recommend any of his writing for its insights on life and the human condition, written with clarity and humor.

If you liked this break from the how-to, let me know! And if not, well, let me know that, too 🙂

Take care.

2 thoughts on “Assistive Technology’s higher purpose”

    1. Thanks, Paul! Yeah, Parker Palmer has so many wonderful essays and poems. And I guess videos and workshops, too. He’s been around for a long time (he’s 81 years old now), but it took me a while to finally open up one of his books. Glad I did! Happy October to you…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *