A Tale of Mac Success

As we move forward, seemingly at the speed of light, with each new advancement in our technology it sometimes does us good to stop and remember how a Mac and a little self confidence can change lives.  And believe me when I say that without a Mac this story would not have had the happy ending that it had. 

It has been many years since I shared this story and I think it is time to share it again, especially when I read some of the cynical comments that some folks like to leave on TMO articles.

For some 30 years I worked with people with developmental disabilities.  To be thusly classified, an individual can lack the ability to take care of their basic self care needs all the way up to holding down entry level jobs in the community and every spectrum in between. In that 30 years I had lots of one-on-one opportunities to both teach and learn. 

The final nine years of my career were spent in the central offices of a state agency, where all the rules and regulations were made and administered.  Very few of the people who worked in our division had actual hands-on experience with people with developmental disabilities and therein lies our tale.

In our work environment was a woman of about 40 years of age who was employed full time.  Her measured IQ was around 75.  She lived at home with her parents and her job consisted of picking up the mail at the main building twice a day and sorting and delivering it in our building.  Obviously she could read, write, follow directions, and carry out routine tasks without direct supervision.  Her job duties took up about two hours a day.  She worked eight. 

She spent the remaining six hours a day annoying people, and they let her get away with it because she was “retarded.” Everything she did was designed to get attention because she had always practiced that behavior. 

The whole thing infuriated me because the staff would not treat her as an equal and expect appropriate behavior from her.  She was perfectly capable of exhibiting it.  As long as she continued as she was going her life would never get better.  She wanted to live on her own, but her parents would not allow it.  And, of course, her behavior annoyed everyone and interfered with their work. 

We still had a couple of Macs, saved back from when the agency’s IT department forced everyone to go to PCs. We had some databases that we could not lose that were on the Macs so they couldn’t take them away no matter how much they chewed their knuckles. 

We also had a routine task that needed to be done that no one really had time to do.  We sent out certified letters weekly and we needed to record receipt of the green cards that came back from the post office.  Our Mac specialist (one of the social workers) created a simple database for the tracking of the green cards and taught our mail clerk how to use it.  It took her a day to learn how to use the Mac and work with the database.

Could this have happened with a Windows PC? This was in the mid-90s, and we might have been using Windows 95 at the time. Considering the support issues that our non developmentally disabled staff had dealing with their PCs, I am quite comfortable in saying that the Mac’s simple and elegant interface even way back then played a major role in this woman’s ability to so quickly learn the skills she needed to manage this database.

Even more importantly, as this was the foundation of my plan to better structure her work day, I am not sure what I would have done had we not been able to start her off with this new job responsibility.

It worked, however, and it worked wonderfully well. The next part was convincing the staff of the disservice they were doing her by allowing her inappropriate work behavior to continue.  I think most of them were secretly glad to be able to gain the appropriate skills to  do it.

After she had been working with the database and her mail duties for three weeks, I added the last element.  We moved her work station to the one in front of the main entrance of our building.  This was long before security was such an issue.  It became her responsibility to greet the occasional visitor and direct them through the rabbit warren to the person the visitor wanted to see.  Frequently that meant showing them the way. 

At this point she truly had a full time job and the self assurance that went along with it.  Staff learned to reinforce appropriate work behavior and correct inappropriate work behavior.  She got a raise based solely on her job performance. After 18 months, with support from us, she was able to convince her father to buy her a condo and she purchased a Mac for her home use.   

She is still working in a state job, still living alone, and even though I have been retired for more than ten years, she still sends me emails when anything significant happens in the lives of my former coworkers. 

I agree that this may be a isolated case, but I prefer to believe that it just happens to be the only one with which I am personally familiar. I have written in the past about women who have gained a place back in the work force after many years away from it because they learned computer skills with a Mac, but this one has always held a special place in my mind and heart.