While at the 2018 CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego, Content and Marketing Specialist Vivian Cullipher set out to interview folks on their involvement in CSUN and to learn more about their passion for accessibility. Here, she interviews Rebecca Cagle, Senior Trainer at the University of North Texas Workplace Inclusion and Sustainable Employment (UNTWISE) department and CSUN workshop speaker on assistive technologies.
- Introducing Rebecca Cagle [Transcript, “Introduction”]
- What’s It Like for Your to Be Here at CSUN? [Transcript, “CSUN”]
- How Did You Get Involved in Assistive Technology? [Transcript, “Catalyst for Assistive Technology Involvement”]
- How Can Business Owners and HR Managers Learn More about Assistive Technologies? [Transcript, “Businesses”]
- Do You Have a Current Passion Project? [Transcript, “Passion Project”]
Introducing Rebecca Cagle, University of North Texas
VIVIAN CULLIPHER: This is Vivian Cullipher with Microassist. I’m the content and marketing specialist there. I wanted to bring you a few personalities from CSUN, the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference 2018, here in San Diego. Right now I’m sitting with Rebecca Cagle. Am I pronouncing your name correctly? Is it Cagle?
REBECCA CAGLE: Yes.
VIVIAN: Rebecca, could you introduce yourself, tell me what your role is at the University of North Texas, and what a typical day looks like for you?
REBECCA: Hi, Vivian. Thank you for having me. I am at the University of North Texas, and I work for a department called UNTWISE. We create trainings for voc rehab counselors that need continuing ed credits, and also certifications for people that might be working in the rehabilitation arena in employment. We have classes for supported employment training, job skills training, and then we do a myriad of little webinars on assistive technology, what are the skills that you might want to help someone with a disability develop more self-advocacy skills. It’s just everything in that arena.
VIVIAN: Okay, so you’re training other people to be able to train.
REBECCA: I am. I’m training the trainer now. I started this in May. Before that, I’ve worked in higher education in the disability accommodation office with students. I primarily worked with academic advising, assistive technology, and then the text conversion component. I had a team of people that converted text for students. And then I would do, and still do, trainings on campus for professors and that kind of thing.
What’s It Like for You to Be Here at CSUN?
Transcript: “What’s It Like for You to Be Here at CSUN?”
VIVIAN: … again, higher ed, you got your master’s at CSUN. Is that correct?
REBECCA: I did.
VIVIAN: What’s it like coming back to the conference as a presenter because today, you’re presenting on assistive technologies?
REBECCA: I am very honored to be here. I believe that one way that you show gratitude is to give it back. This is my way of giving back to CSUN. You think about 33 years they’ve been doing assistive technology and 33 years ago, you and I probably never even heard of assistive technology, and they have built it. The Feds come here to have some of their meetings. We have people that are here, obviously even in this group, that are from other parts of the world, then it’s making an impact all over the world. To show my gratitude, one, they created an online master’s program, so I could get my master’s degree and the one thing that I loved the most. I could have got my master’s at the other university in Texas, but they really didn’t have anything that I was hungry about. I could have done educational technology but it wasn’t as specific as this.
The other thing that I love about coming back as a presenter is I wasn’t sure if … I’m 63. If I got my master’s degree, would it really make a difference this late in my life? A lot of people, even my kids said, “Mom, you’re too old.” I thought, “You know what, I still love it.” At that time, I had an aunt that was living with me that was in her 80s, and she was still driving and able to cook. I thought, “Well, if I’m that mobile when I’m 80, I’m going to be mad at myself that I might have another 20 years that I could be in the field and maybe make a difference in other people’s lives.”
How Did You Get Involved in Assistive Technology?
Transcript: “How Did You Get Involved in Assistive Technology?”
VIVIAN: So what was the catalyst for you to pursue a career, first in disability accommodation in general, and then assistive technologies, specifically?
REBECCA: Well, I actually started out in occupational therapy and I had mentioned in here that my then-husband decided to leave, and I had four kids. I thought, well, I can either work at Macy’s, not picking on Macy’s but I thought, well, I can either take an immediate job in sales, which had been my background, or I could go back to school. Because at that time, I didn’t have a degree.
So I decided to go back to school and I was working toward occupational therapy. I was commuting, and the last day of that semester, the engine in my van went out on the way home. You can imagine, as a single parent, trying to get four different kids to school every day is a major undertaking and I had some wonderful support from friends and neighbors. At that point, that was sort of the breaking point, and I couldn’t commute anymore.
So I found a program that was on the bus line, in rehabilitation. I thought, okay, that’s kind of close. So I got my undergraduate at UT Southwestern in rehabilitation science and there was a position open, working in high school, and so I started out working in that. And then this position opened up in higher ed., and I mainly took it because I thought, well, maybe I can get a discount for my kids. It was a family choice. It was close to home. Little did I know. Sometimes I think I chose my career, and in hindsight, I realize it chose me. Well, I see so many parallels with my Dad being an above the knee amputee and my mother having had polio as a kid.
So it caught me in that way, and when I started working in higher ed., I had the qualifications in knowing a lot about people with disabilities and had some internships, but not in assistive technology, at all. We had some training in it, and I asked my professor at the time, “I’m thinking about majoring more in assistive technology,” and she said, “Oh, it’s just a passing thing.”
VIVIAN: And how many years later has it been now?
REBECCA: That’s was in the ’90s, and she has since said to me, “I’m so glad that you chose to pursue it because not many people have.” And it is a pioneer field, still. A lot of people still don’t know what that means, and as the students came in one at a time, I realized that there was no one else willing to step up and learn about it. So I said, “Okay, I guess it’s me.”
So I’ve self taught myself through a lot of the different things and it’s a been a fun adventure. And when you see them succeed, you know. And they have a team mate. It can be very lonely out there, I think, as a person with a disability. It’s so easy to turn away or be turned away from.
VIVIAN: But to know they have that support.
VIVIAN: And to know they’ve gotten that support from you.
How Can Business Owners and HR Managers Learn More about Assistive Technologies?
Transcript: “How Can Business Owners and HR Managers Learn More about Assistive Technologies?
VIVIAN: So let’s take this out of the higher ed space of even the conference realm, and let’s talk about businesses. Okay, so I know you deal with assistive technologies, you’re implementing this, you’re helping people know what’s available out there. If you had a chance to speak to a room of business owners, HR departments, technologists, those type of folks, unfamiliar with assistive tech, what would you want them to know?
REBECCA: I think the best starting place is USBLN, and if you get me to try to describe that acronym, I can’t, but it’s United States Business-
VIVIAN: Leaders Network, I think. [Editors Note: USBLN stands for US Business Leadership Network]
VIVIAN: If not, we’ll correct it in the resources section below this post.
REBECCA: They have so many great resources for businesses, and there’s people from the University of North Texas in USBLN, and have a history of that. HR departments, I mentioned earlier, have a long way to go in applying accommodations for people with disabilities, and I met an attorney that’s on the other side of that and trying to protect HR departments from making bad decisions. When I first started talking with him, he said, “Those people,” meaning people with disabilities, “need to know what they need in their work environment.” And I was so sad by that, because how many people that have a disability even know what technology exists, especially if it’s brought on later in life? And even if they know what the technology is, like Dragon, where are they gonna get the training? Who’s gonna provide the training? Is it gonna be enough training? So we have a lot of connections to make, and I think they are overwhelmed by it.
VIVIAN: The HR departments are?
REBECCA: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And they haven’t had anyone, for the most part, that’s really designated, or it’s been assigned to them. But it’s improving, but historically I’ve seen people with disabilities that should be getting assistive technology, get the accommodations, and there’s this lag in what is, in my opinion, unreasonable amount of time in just getting in to do their job. The other that we talked about was accessible applications and accessible proficiency exams. Those are all things that have really caught them totally off guard, and a lot of it to me is also on the vendors. A lot of vendors know that they’re supposed to be creating accessibly. Publishers know that they’re supposed to be creating accessibly. People that are creating educational technology, they all know that it’s required to be accessible, but they still are having these products that they promote and then people are using the products and then they get caught off guard.
Do You Have a Project or Area You’re Especially Passionate About?
Transcript, “Do You Have a Project or Area You’re Especially Passionate About?”
VIVIAN: [Do] you have a passion project in the realm of assistive technology and if so, what is it?
REBECCA: It would be in the HR realm. I’ve been asking myself, if I was going to retire in the next few years, what would I want to get involved in, and it would be in USBLN to get more businesses to realize that they can make more money, they can be a better business for their employees as well if they will start learning to be more inclusive and that’s a lifelong journey right there, but it’s in employability and hire-ability that I think people want to participate more, and we can make it a lot better.
VIVIAN: Fantastic. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. I really do appreciate it.
REBECCA: Thank you, Vivian.
VIVIAN: It’s a pleasure getting to know you.
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As Rebecca mentioned, the USBLN is a valuable resource for businesses and others wanting to learn more about assistive technologies. Their tagline is, “Driving Success through Disability Inclusion.” Be sure to visit their website!
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Image Credit: Microphone by David Marioni from the Noun Project