Guest post- Looking Back: Debbie and the Dragon

Debbie and the Dragon

[August 2010 This is a guest article by Debbie’s father; I am honored to be an invited contributor to Debbie’s blog and quite proud to be her dad.]

My daughter Debbie is an amazing young woman who has accomplished much. She continues to impress me with her strength of character and perseverance, rooted in her deep personal faith. She holds a BA degree and is now in the final stages of completing her first manuscript of a planned trilogy of novels on the growing faith of a young woman and her (disabled) boy friend. (Oops, hope I did not reveal too much of the plot!) She maintains an online blog with about 400 posts – all with the sole purpose of encouraging others by sharing her life experiences. This is quite an accomplishment for a 30-year old young woman with cerebral palsy (CP); her quadriplegia prevents her from using her body, and she cannot use her hands to type on a keyboard.

The Amazing Dragon

But this is where the friendly dragon enters the story. Beginning at the age of two, Debbie attended a United Cerebral Palsy school in Baltimore, MD and then a special education school until entering a mainstreamed elementary school in 1985. It was in 1988 that I first met this amazing dragon! At that time, Debbie was eight years old and I attended a Disability Expo in Baltimore; I watched in amazement as a lawyer with CP demonstrated a prototype voice dictation system called “Dragon” running on an early “souped up” personal computer. It was amazing to see a quadriplegic man dictating through a computer, and it gave me great hope for Debbie. The entire system was beyond our budget, but I knew the day would come when this technology could help Debbie. I dreamed of the day when she could begin using voice recognition to do schoolwork. In the meanwhile Debbie excelled in school and my wife and I were her dictation system – writing down the math and written assignments as she progressed in school. I continued to watch the literature, read every review of speech recognition software in the PC magazines, and tracked the company called Dragon Systems – looking forward to the day when its dictation software would become practical for Debbie. As Debbie studied in school, the pioneers of the emerging technology of speech recognition continued to work to make the technology available to the public.

In 1993 we moved to Michigan and Debbie entered a new Middle school; everyone around Debbie continued to take her dictation. It was in this period that the Intel Pentium chip was introduced and the “Dragon Dictate” speech recognition product and a powerful laptop computer was within our grasp! In October 1996, eight years after I first dreamed of Debbie being able to dictate to a computer, we traveled to Traverse City Michigan, to purchase a copy from the closest dealer and receive instructions. Debbie received an hour of personal training – we were off and running. She began dictating her homework alone right away – writing and even her math! Even more, she was able to control her PC and use more applications that were previously hidden from her. Dragon Dictate opened an entirely new world of exciting independence to her! I even hooked up some light controls and a room fan that she could turn on and off by voice command. This Dragon was bringing a world of encouragement. But there was more to come.

Debbie and her Faithful and Tireless Dragon

Debbie graduated from Saline High School in 1999, a member of the National Honor Society. In 2003 she graduated from Washtenaw Community College with honors, earning an Associates Degree. She proceeded on to Concordia University in Ann Arbor, MI and used Dragon Dictate in the David Dormitory on her desktop computer to conduct research on the Web, write papers, and send e-mail and instant message with her friends. In those years, she was helped by a small “Army of Angels”- the battalion of wonderful and Godly young women from Concordia that drove her wheelchair to class, copied their notes for her, fed her in the dorm, turned the pages in her books, and much more. She graduated in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in communications and a minor in English. All of this was performed with the same copy of Dragon Dictate she purchased ten years earlier! Through the years we had diligently tried the newer, continuous-voice software versions (Dragon Naturally Speaking) but none could compete with the performance of her good old Dragon Dictate. But by 2008, as new Microsoft operating systems were introduced, we started having operating system conflicts, and we knew we could not live with Windows 98 forever. We kept trying new versions of Naturally Speaking and finally, in 2008 we got version Naturally Speaking 9.2 to work as well as the old Dragon! We were now ready for new operating systems!

The Dragon at Debbie’s House

Today, Debbie’s life revolves around this tireless technology pioneered by Dragon Systems. Debbie is at her desk from morning to bedtime, saying “Wake-up” and “Go to sleep” between endless conversations with the Dragon that is her faithful companion to open the Internet to her. She keeps up her blog, “Rollin into the Future”, which has now become an accumulation of hundreds of articles on disability-related subjects, including reviews of current news articles and TV programs on disabled people, and her inspirational commentary on the role of faith in living joyfully though physically disabled. She uses Skype to phone her friends, including a weekly Bible Study with her Concordia friends in the states and on the mission field, all controlled by the dragon. For a person that cannot use her hands, the faithful Dragon is a wonderful blessing – a technology that came at just the right time in life for a person like Debbie.

Debbie is just one of many disabled people who quietly, daily, rely on this companion – the Dragon. It transformed Debbie’s life and opened to her the ability to be an encouragement to others who are disabled and to tell them about her faith. As her father, I thank God for the technology that has opened the world to Debbie’s intellect – but more than being thankful for an inanimate technology, I am thankful for the pioneering technologists who made this wonderful Dragon possible!

9 thoughts on “Guest post- Looking Back: Debbie and the Dragon”

  1. I always remember going to dinner and you telling the Dragon to "Go to sleep." 🙂 I miss those days! But wow what a blessing it has been for you and continues to be!

  2. I always remember going to dinner and you telling the Dragon to "Go to sleep." 🙂 I miss those days! But wow what a blessing it has been for you and continues to be!


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