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Stuart Sanderson

“A computer is a best friend to have, especially when you are physically disabled.”

Stuart Sanderson was born with Cerebral Palsy, and although he was not expected to live past the age of eight, he is now in his mid-fifties. Through the use of computer technology, Stuart has earned a bachelor’s degree, is a published poet, author, songwriter and budding artist.

“When I am operating a computer, I feel free from my wheelchair and my Cerebral Palsy body for a few hours,” says Stuart. “Having a computer is like a healthy hand that creates something special and I am pleased with it. A mind is also helped by a computer, for it expands your inner world into a vast universe. And you will learn something new over time. When I come to the Inglis computer lab, I feel I am entering another world. I leave my problems behind for a little while and fantasy awaits me, through the computer screen.”

Stuart is one of more than 150 residents who participate in Inglis’ Adapted Technology Program. He recently joined in a pilot project of Second Life, a virtual world that is accessible via the internet.  Everything that people do in the real world is available to the Second Life users. They populate this world through an avatar they create in the virtual world. There they can explore, meet others, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the world, which they refer to as the grid.

There is much laughter going on, when a joke has been told, and sometimes there is just the humming of the computers when their users focus on their various projects. This lab is a very special and unique place, where the human mind is touched by a machine. Silent talents come alive at Inglis.”

During one of Stuart’s virtual expeditions, he wondered if there was a way for him, for “his avatar,” to dance. He found a dance hall on the grid and figured out how to dance. “It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life,” he said. “To be here physically and there, virtually, in Second Life, was amazing. My instructor and I began to waltz. Although it was in a virtual world, it was like I was really dancing. There were tears running down my cheeks as I virtually experienced a dance, something I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would do. It was like teleporting out of my physical body and literally sliding and gliding across a dance floor.”

According to Stuart, “A computer is the best friend to have, especially when you are physically disabled. When you and your computer are working in harmony, you can travel the world without leaving your wheelchair, by using the Internet.”

“When writing an e-mail to your friends and your family, you are touching somebody’s heart by your words. Sometimes you can make new friendships on-line with your thoughts too, rather than being judged by your physical appearance — unless you want to write about your disability. I usually do, because it is better to be honest and I am not ashamed of it.”