Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Transition episode. Wade Wingler passes the torch to Josh Anderson.
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WADE WINGLER: Hi, I’m Wade Wingler, vice president at Easter Seals Crossroads, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
JOSH ANDERSON: Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, your weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. You may notice that my voice is slightly different as I am your new host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 378 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 24, 2017.
On today show, we have a very special guest: the one, the only Wade Wingler. He will take some time now to talk about his expense of the podcast and offer some advice to the new host. So let’s go ahead and get into the interview.
Today I have a guest who needs no introduction. Wade Wingler has been hosting the AT Update podcast since its inception. He’s also celebrating 25 years with Easter Seals Crossroads this month. Today Wade is stepping out of the driver’s seat to sit in the interview chair and talk about his experiences in assistive technology and this podcast, look back on some of the joys and challenges, and talk about what he’s excited about in the future. Wade, welcome to your show?
WADE WINGLER: Hi Josh. And no, actually, welcome to your show.
JOSH ANDERSON: That’s right, folks. Wade is going to be stepping away from the podcast and booth for a while, but I promise we’ll try to get him in here as much as we can.
WADE WINGLER: There you go. This is kind of a big day, and I know you are a little nervous, and I’m frankly a little nervous. I’m excited because we are going to get into it, but life is changing around here and you are, as of today, the new host of Assistive Technology Update.
JOSH ANDERSON: Let’s not talk about that because that will make me more nervous and scared. The people really want to learn more about you after listening to you for these, what? 50 years on the air?
WADE WINGLER: Something like that.
JOSH ANDERSON: Somewhere in there. Starting off, how did you first come to work in assistive technology? I know we don’t get into it because our favorite G.I. Joe character was an assistive technology specialist. How did you get into this field?
WADE WINGLER: That’s funny. I, like a lot of folks, sort of stumbled or lucked into it, depending on how you want to look at it. I had graduated from Butler University with a degree in sociology, liberal arts, and my plan was to go to graduate school back in the early nineties and become a pediatric social worker. I wanted to get an MSW and I wanted to go work with kids and hospitals and their families and help them navigate what was happening in their healthcare world. But I didn’t get into grad school.
JOSH ANDERSON: That’ll do it.
WADE WINGLER: All of a sudden, I’m fresh out of college, have some bills to pay, and I thought I need to get a job because, you know, bills. My plan for the fall had dramatically changed all of a sudden. I saw an ad in the paper — back when you profound jobs in such a way — that basically said, teach people who are blind or visually impaired how to use computers. My academic background was in disability, and I wanted to work with people with disabilities. I had been kind of a do-it-yourself, self-taught computer nerd, writing code since I was about eight years old on a TRS 80 on a farm in the Midwest. I thought, well, okay, computers. Got that, I can totally do that. People with disabilities, that’s my jam. That’s what I want to do. I’ll apply for this job. It was to be an assistive technology specialist here at Easter Seals Crossroads. I know you know what that job title is because you have had that job title in the past as well.
JOSH ANDERSON: Yes.
WADE WINGLER: I took a job here working first with folks who were blind or visually impaired, teaching them things like WordPerfect 5.1 and the IBM screen reader on DOS PS2 microchannel computers.
JOSH ANDERSON: Wow. I don’t even remember what those words mean anymore. That leads me to my next question: what was the world of AT like when you first came into the business?
WADE WINGLER: It was an DOS and just a little bit of Windows. It was more technical and less user-friendly. I think back today’s early on one, if you were going to set up somebody’s computer and put a screen reader on it, or put a voice input system on it, or heaven forbid you needed to install a SCSI scanner for an optical character recognition program, that was a two or three day job. You would take a computer out, and you would start to update the operating system, which came on three and a half inch floppy disks at that time. And if you wanted to install a scanner, you actually have to take the computer apart, and you had to map out interrupt requests and memory addresses and figure out the hardware side of it. And then the software came on stacks of floppy disks. One of the earlier versions of DragonDictate — before Dragon NaturallySpeaking — came on 25 or 30 floppy disks.
JOSH ANDERSON: For those listeners who don’t know, floppy disk is an old CD. For those of you who don’t know what a CD is, that’s an old flash drive.
WADE WINGLER: Exactly. I literally remember putting in a floppy disk, letting it run for 50 minutes, putting in another, letting it run for 15 minutes, installing software. And there were 30 of them. That’s an all day job just to install software. Then you have to get into training and the stuff that we do now. Anymore, you set up a computer and an hour, tops. Back then, that was days’ worth of work. That alone has changed.
JOSH ANDERSON: For sure. I have to ask you this from remembering floppy disks and things, especially when there is more than one involved. Was it usually the thirtieth one that had the error on it?
WADE WINGLER: In Dragon version 3-point-something, it was disk nineteen. They produced a whole crop of Dragon software where disk 19 was bad, and they had to mail out a new disk 19 for everybody. I actually cared a disk 19 in my briefcase for a long time.
JOSH ANDERSON: Nice. Because there is no way to know if it’s going to fail until you get to that disk?
WADE WINGLER: Exactly. And you start over if you don’t have the right disk, the good desk. You start all over.
JOSH ANDERSON: I know you started in assistive technology with all those different things. When did the idea of Assistive Technology Update start?
WADE WINGLER: It was many years ago now. I think we’ve been doing the show for around seven years without ever missing a week. It was when we were attending assistive technology conferences and trade shows, like ATIA and Closing the Gap and CSUN and those kinds of things, and trying to figure out how to bring information back to people in Indiana so that AT professionals and educators and people with disabilities, or anybody interested in assistive technology, could have access to that information. We actually hosted a conference here in Indianapolis for a few years on assistive technology. It was two or three days, and we had sessions and a vendor Hall. It looks like a small version of one of the major assistive technology conferences. Sadly, the funding changed and we weren’t able to do that conference anymore. I sort of felt this pressure to be able to give information anyway, because when you sit in the role that you have, you always are learning about a new version of software or some new thing coming out or some new interesting research about people with disabilities and technology. We wanted to find a way to get the information out.
When your name is Wade, W-A-D-E, those are call letters. When I was a kid, I would pretend that I was a disc jockey and I would sit in my bedroom, on the farm, in Coatesville Indiana, with an eight track recordable tape deck, 45 from my dad’s jukebox because he owned the pool hall, my RadioShack microphone, and I would say, “Welcome to W-A-D-E radio! We’ve got the latest of the greatest and the goldies of the oldies.” I would sit there and spin my own records and record onto eight track, because that’s what I could record on, my own radio show. I thought I could have a podcast. I was listening to podcasts. I had this content I wanted to get out, and I always wanted to be a disc jockey. I thought I’m going to do this. And that was how the idea came out.
JOSH ANDERSON: Perfect. Full disclosure, I use to do the same thing except I had the RadioShack cassette player. I would sit there and record my favorite songs up the radio, and I would go back and record my voice in between them so I could do my own disc jockeying.
WADE WINGLER: Which is what you are great for taking this job.
JOSH ANDERSON: No pressure at all. So there was the idea. How did that come to fruition? What were the first few like? How did you get it all put together?
WADE WINGLER: They were horrible. The first ones were so horrible. The music was bad. The first podcast was five minutes. I was [simulates dramatic radio personality] “Welcome to” chewing on all my words and pretending to be a horrible distracting. I put together the first few episodes literally in my garage. I forget what kind of a digital recorder — maybe I was recording right into a Mac with a snowball blue microphone and recording in my garage. I reached out to a good friend of mine who’s been on the show recently and may times, Danny Wayne, who is both a radio personality and assistive technology guru, and said you have to help me with this. You’re a radio guy, you were on the radio when I was a kid. How do I do a better job? Some coaching from him and others got us to the point where the show was actually consumable after a number of episodes.
JOSH ANDERSON: Nice. I know it change over time and grew. I know originally it was just more of a news program, keeping people up to date. And then it switched to more of the interview style. When did that happen? Was it organic? Was it just what people wanted?
WADE WINGLER: It was in response to listener feedback. I think it was in response to some of my passions. The first shows were just a few new stories, and that was it. And then I remember doing an interview, and I believe my first interview was with a guy named John Williams who is actually the man who coined the term assistive technology. He’s a reporter for the Washington Post, a man with a disability who I’ve gotten to know over the years. He made up the term “assistive technology” and printed it in the Washington Post, and that’s the first record of that term being printed anywhere. He actually made the term for the industry we work in.
JOSH ANDERSON: Perfect first interview.
WADE WINGLER: Exactly. He was either my first or one of the first interviews. I realized that that is a fascinating thing to do, talk to people who are on the cutting edge of assistive technology — or in his case, created the term that describes what we do. We did one interview, and that was in the format. We did it like an episode plus or something. “Today, we have a bonus thing on our episode.” That bonus thing turned into something that I love. I love having conversations with people who are thought leaders in the field and finding out what’s happening with them and just getting a little bit deep with them and figuring out what is their motivation to do what they do and to tell stories about the lives they’ve impacted and those kinds of things.
After a wild, the format needed to standardize because we are not only broadcast as a podcast, but we are also broadcast on of the radio reading services on terrestrial radio. We need to fit into a half an hour or 27 minute time slot, so we needed to standardize a few things. That’s when the interview and news stories all fell into this half-hour format. Probably out of the last seven or so years we’ve been doing it, the last five or five and half years have been a format with interviews. I love interviews.
JOSH ANDERSON: So that probably equals out to right around 300 interviews.
WADE WINGLER: Probably so. We are recording episodes in the 380’s right now, so about that.
JOSH ANDERSON: So really hard question here. Do you have a favorite interview?
WADE WINGLER: There are a few. John Williams that I mentioned before, the guy who coined the term assistive technology, has been one of my favorite interviews. Another one of my favorites is Bob Heil, who isn’t necessarily known in the AT world, but he’s the only non-musician in the rock ‘n roll. The reason I connected to Bob Heil is because he’s interested in ham operator accessibility for children with disabilities. If you haven’t heard of Bob Heil but I listen to the show, you’ve actually hurt his work because we use Heil microphones in our studio. The PR-40 is the one you were talking on right now. In the interview I did with Bob, he talks about how the idea for the iPhone came out. It’s going to blow your mind. It blew my mind when he said it. He and Joe Walsh were sitting at Bob’s kitchen table one time, because Bob did sound for the Eagles and the Who, and he invented Quadraphone and Quadrophenia sound that was the tours in the seventies. Bob Heil was hanging out with Joe Walsh, and Joe said I need a microphone that sounds like this. Bob said, you can’t make a microphone that sounds like that. Kosher, it would be cool if you could. He made one, and that’s the microphone we are talking on right now, the Heil PR-40 that Bob. He’s also cool because he does sound for Stevie Wonder, and I believe he might have done sound for Ray Charles. He has some serious celebrity disability connections. And he’s just a hoot, a great guy, genuine man. I enjoy talking to Bob Heil. And there are so many others, but I guess the interviews I like the most are the ones that get on the edge of assistive technology and make your eyebrows go up and realize, it connects to the rest of the world. It’s not just our industry. Our industry is connected to others. I love those interviews that take us there.
JOSH ANDERSON: You talked about a few of them, but what was the biggest challenge in the podcast? I need to know this one.
WADE WINGLER: It’s time. That’s why we are making this transition, because my job is changing, and I’m sure we will talk some more about that. It’s finding the time to do it and consistency. I’ve learned with podcast that people want to know what they are going to consume, they wanted to be reliable, and they wanted to be consistent. They wanted to be around same length, about the same kind of content, they like the formula but you can’t miss. You need to put it out there all the time, otherwise you do is called “Podfading.” That’s where you miss an episode, and then you missed three episodes, and before long it’s we used to do the podcast. That consistency and making a part of the heartbeat of your work has been one of the biggest challenges.
It’s not hard to find content. There is always something new and exciting happening in this industry. It’s not hard to have passion and enthusiasm. That’s why I’ve asked you to take this, because I know you have that and you can go deep with guests we have on the shows. You’re going to be talking about assistive technology every day no matter what. We might as well put some of that on the air. It’s about time and consistency.
JOSH ANDERSON: I would definitely take that to heart. Just talking about assistive technology, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your 25 years experience. And not just “we don’t use DOS anymore.”
WADE WINGLER: We don’t much. Although sometimes I like to get into DOS for nostalgia purposes. I want to say mobile technology. I want to see the iPad and iPhone and those kinds of things. But really I think it’s bigger than that. I think is about the convergence and mobility of technology in general. In the past, you had a different program or different computer or different peripheral for every different kind of task that you wanted. You had a 35mm camera. You had a compass. You had a video recorder. You had an audio recorder. You had a calculator. You had a word processor. Each one of those things cost money, had its own set of batteries and power cords and failures and all those kinds of things. Now we’ve seen all those things coming together where the thing that you and I have in our pockets or on the desk, the mobile device, does as many things as he really wanted to do. It’s changing all the time. I can listen to music, watch a movie, do a spreadsheet, do screen reading, eye control systems or switch control systems with my face. The fact that it’s all coming together and also becoming a consumer grade product, that’s not me and my disability and my special thing that the special person had to come and set up and teach me how to use, and when it breaks, I have to send it to the special place. It’s this thing that everyone in the room also has, and when it breaks, I go to the same store, the same place to get it fixed. If I use some special apps, well, everyone has a billion apps on their phone. Nobody notices that mine is special. It’s convergence, the fact that it’s become a consumer grade stuff, and really has become easier. I don’t have to mess with dip switches and IRQ channels and memory mapping and those kinds of things anymore. Or piles of broken floppy disks.
JOSH ANDERSON: What are you most excited for the future of AT?
WADE WINGLER: It’s interesting because I’m seeing sort of the democratization of assistive technology. I’m seeing more and more do-it-yourself assistive technology. I’m honored to teach for a couple of University here in Indianapolis. I teach young people about assistive technology. One of the things I often have them do is a mockup assistive technology assessment. That assignment years ago was a pretty complicated assessment. Now it’s a trip to the App Store. The fact that you can do a lot more do-it-yourself kind of stuff. Sometimes it’s a simple as turn on the built-in thing on your device, a screen reader that can support braille. It really is becoming much more do-it-yourself, which the flip side of that is, is our industry going to die? Are specialists not going to be needed anymore?
JOSH ANDERSON: I’m editing that part out.
WADE WINGLER: I think the answer is no because more people are going to use it. We aren’t seeing fewer cell phone stores. We aren’t seeing fewer people buying these devices. We are seeing greater utilization and a greater leveling of the playing field for people with disabilities. We are also seeing a greater incidence of people with disabilities. Think about age related disabilities. Think about the increased diagnosis of autism that’s happening. Think about the increased recognition of learning disabilities and things that before might have just gone you a bad grade and moved you to the back of the classroom as opposed to being acknowledged as a difference that needs to be scaffolded or accommodated. I don’t want to say we are going to make it up on volume because that’s not exactly it. But I think there are more opportunities to help people know how to use technology and make a meaningful integration in their life with technologies. I think it’s going to be different, but I think there is a ton of opportunity.
JOSH ANDERSON: Oh yeah. I have to agree with you. Especially with all those different things out there, finding with the one that works for the individual can always be a way that hopefully we can always stay in that market.
Folks might not know this about Wade, but he’s always doing something new, something different. He’s an avid banjo player and always seems to be getting another degree, certificate, or something like that. We talked about what you are excited about the future of AT. What are you excited about for the future of Wade Wingler?
WADE WINGLER: I don’t know.
JOSH ANDERSON: And that’s exciting.
WADE WINGLER: Exactly. The day we record this is one day away from my 25 anniversary here at Easter Seals Crossroads. You might recall, we talk about it earlier, I was just taking the job to get by until I got into grad school. Fast-forward 25 years, it wasn’t what I had planned. So I don’t know what the future necessarily holds. I’m not leaving. I’m not going anywhere. As you guys know and people might have picked up, I’ve been promoted. I’m now vice president of the organization. I’m responsible for a lot more than just assistive technology. I help oversee our autism programs in our adaptive driving programs. I take a look over our enterprise technologies, our IT systems here as well. I have a lot of things growing in my professional world that just me and sort of bigger responsibilities in the agency, bigger picture responsibilities. I find myself with board members a lot more. I find myself going out and trying to carve out what does the future of the organization look like and develop strategic partnerships with universities. I am seeing a bit of a transition in my career. It’s less practical, technical technology stuff and a little bit more big picture leadership, executive stuff in the organization. The only reason I’m okay with that is because I have an amazing team who are picking up the parts that I’m stepping away from. Between you and Brian Norton specifically, it’s amazing for me to be able to say I’m stepping away from podcasting and stepping away from direct AT services, but the team that’s there on the only people who are highly skilled but our guys I love and trust and no pretty darn well. If you have to have your baby off to somebody, handed off to guys that you really know and trust. You and Brian specifically — and the whole team — but you guys are the keystone of what we’re doing here with this transition.
I don’t know what it means for me. But it’s going to be exciting. I’m excited to see what the future holds and love working for a great organization where I know I’m going to have the resources and support I need to help figure out what does the future mean for this place.
JOSH ANDERSON: Tell me a story of someone you’ve helped either in the position directly to the podcast, something like that, something that stuck with you. I like that you laughed at that.
WADE WINGLER: It just happened last week, one that surprised me. You will learn as you do this but you have an impact that you don’t realize. There was a gentleman who walks through our hallway just outside of the studio a couple of days ago who was looking for an answer to a technical question about assistive technology. This is somebody that apparently heard me speak at a keynote address or something that I gave a number of years ago. He came up afterward and asked me a couple of technical questions. I think it might’ve been about Dragon or voice input of some kind. I said, take a look at this and thing about that. If you can figure it out, give us a call and we will help you out. He was here in the building for something else and came up again and said, hey, I’ve got another question. You were actually in the hall. It was about what version of Dragon is current and how can he upgrade and that kind of stuff. I didn’t have — I thought I had the answer. I wasn’t sure. You are able to say, yeah, this is the answer to the question. I said hello, good to see you, it’s been a while and have you been in all that stuff. Later in the day, one of my coworkers said, you’re not going to believe what happened. I was in the elevator with a guy, and I just said how’s your day? He goes, well, it’s really good. I got to talk to Wade. That made me feel weird. He’s like, no, that guy, those people always have the answers to my questions. It is a matter if it’s been a minute or a year since I’ve seen them, I can go and have an answer to the question that I need, and they can always point me in a good direction. I trust those guys. When she said how is your day, it was that we had helped him.
JOSH ANDERSON: That’s awesome.
WADE WINGLER: I get that feedback from the podcast. I get that from students I teach. I get that from speaking engagements I’ve done in the past. It’s just really good to know that we are just rattling on about this stuff that we care about and having a good time, making radio But I really do believe it has an impact. We hear from the listeners on the show and ATFAQ where you spend a lot of your time. I think sometimes we are getting the rubber to hit the road. We are making an impact on people. I think we lose sight of how big the impact can be.
JOSH ANDERSON: What advice do you have for me moving forward? If you could go back and talk to Wade seven years ago when you started this podcast? Just tell him some things. What would you tell him so that I can use the device to help myself out.
WADE WINGLER: This is hand-me-down advice, and it actually comes from John Williams, the guy who coined the term “assistive technology.” It must have been after the interview, we were just chatting afterward. I asked him the same question is that the when am I going to get to talk to the guy who made up the term “assistive technology?” What John said was, Wade, you can never tell the basics enough. Your inclination is going to be to get super nerdy and super technical and into the details that really excite you because it stimulates you because it’s the edges of assistive technology. That’s going to be exciting and that’s good. He said, but people need to hear the basics over and over again because there is always knew audience members. There is always somebody in your audience who might be a specialist and one area but as a total novice in another area. He goes, don’t be afraid to tell the basics over and over again. That will get you to do this for a long time because people need to hear the basics. That rings true for me as well. There are times when I’ll go to a conference, and I hear something I’ve heard before, maybe even something I do every day, but to have a validated and here it resonant from somebody else’s perspective is a super helpful thing. Is not always learning the newest, cool, nerdy thing. Sometimes it’s about hearing the basics again and being validated. Oh yeah, that is how it works and that is what best practices are and that’s where truth is. Don’t be afraid to tell the basics.
JOSH ANDERSON: “KISS” method.
WADE WINGLER: Keep it simple, stupid.
JOSH ANDERSON: Wade, if folks want to find out more about you, is a place they can look?
WADE WINGLER: No. I’m going under a rock and never to be seen again.
JOSH ANDERSON: If anyone has met Wade, they know he’s lying through his teeth right now.
WADE WINGLER: Probably the best way to find at this point is to go to the assistive technology website. Go to EasterSealsTech.com. If you throw a forward slash “Staff” on there, EasterSealsTech.com/staff, it’ll take you to our staff listing where you can see not only my contact information in my smiling face but also Brian and Josh and anybody else that works here in our assistive technology program. If you wanted to me some of the people behind the microphones who are doing the daily work here, that’s a great place to go. This contact information and email addresses and all those things. EasterSealsTech.com is the place to go, or EasterSealsTech.com/staff.
JOSH ANDERSON: Do you have anything else to add?
WADE WINGLER: I’m proud of you. I’m excited to be an audience member of your show.
JOSH ANDERSON: Just so you know, it’s big shoes to fill, a big microphone to fill. I’m very encouraged, very excited. I can’t thank you enough, from our listeners, from myself, from everybody on the team for all you’ve done. Realize that even though you might have new people taking over some of these things that it is stuff that you build. He will hopefully keep that to heart and keep it going well.
WADE WINGLER: Thank you. I appreciate your kind words. Do it your way. It’s your show. I expected to be different. Just don’t break it!
JOSH ANDERSON: I would definitely remember that. Wade Wingler, thank you so much for letting me interview you today. Hopefully we can get you back on the show here sometime when you are walking by.
WADE WINGLER: Thanks Josh.
JOSH ANDERSON: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.EasterSealsTech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to AccessibilityChannel.com. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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