What’s Your POV about ‘Freedom Machines’?

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Did you know that there are an estimated 54 million people with disabilities living in the United States? That nearly 70 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are unemployed? And that fewer than 25 percent of people with disabilities who could be helped by assistive technology are using it? POV’s Freedom Machines, which first aired in 2004, takes a look at disability through the lens of assistive technology, which include devices like refreshable Braille displays, alternate keyboards, voice recognition systems, and more. The film is being rebroadcast this week on select PBS stations (schedules vary, so check your local listings).

Learn more about Freedom Machinesat POV’s companion website for the film.

In the film, high school student Latoya Nesmith of Albany, New York, dreams of becoming a translator at the United Nations as she completes her classroom assignments using a keyboard that mitigates her limited dexterity. Floyd Stewart, paralyzed in mid-life by a car accident, uses assistive technologies to run Middle Tennessee’s Center for Independent Living. Blind physicist Dr. Kent Cullers taught computers to do what his ears can do, and now leads the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. Susanna Sweeney-Martini is completing her college education in Seattle with the aid of a power wheelchair and voice-input software. The “freedom machines,” used by the characters, show the exhilarating possibilities for the disabled, but the film also shows that the existence of the technology is not enough to ensure its use.

Jackie Brand, founder of the Alliance for Technology Access and mother of one of the women profiled in Freedom Machines, says: “It’s a terribly frustrating thing to look at something that you know would change your life so enormously and be so powerful for you, and to know it’s not to be had because you don’t have the resources and the society has not decided that it’s important enough for you to have.”

Filmmaker Jamie StobieFilmmaker Jamie Stobie says, “We want viewers to ask questions like, ‘How do I get that?’ and to seek out more information about particular technologies. There are tools out there that can really make a difference in people’s lives.”

When the film aired in 2004, POV viewers visited our discussion board to talk about the film. You can read their thoughts and tell us what you have to say in the comments below. Do you or someone you love need better access to assistive technology? Has technology transformed your daily experiences? What more is needed?

Ruiyan Xu
Ruiyan Xu
Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.
  • bryan

    FOREIGNID: 15522
    i just saw you film on pbs and i was like wow because i have a learning disdabled and it was like wow. thank you for diong a flim like this. it is not technology but it is for the disabled it is called the national theatre workshop of the handcapped and i love it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/josephgreenville Joseph Bishop

    FOREIGNID: 15523
    I want to find out how I can help people get these devices. Someone help me to help these people. I would like to donate time or money or both. My email is josephgreenville@aol.com

  • Marilyn

    FOREIGNID: 15524
    I really enjoyed he show. As a mother of a “special needs” child or rather young adult, I found interresting. We have gone through Delta talkers, Pathfinders, and now the Echo. She’s livign in Texas and I was amazed at the trouble some parents and children have about adaptive techonolgy devices. Where we lived we never had any trouble getting help from the schools( but of course Iall I had to say was…”You know, with the Americans with disabilities Act, you have to….) . It always worked. But I did enjoy the show.

  • Richard

    FOREIGNID: 15525
    I am in a powerchair and a van that made me completely mobile, without them I would be a shutin but these machines are not affordable or acessable to most handicapped and public assistance is hard to find if not impossible. Thank you for the show , the public exposure..

  • p-wick mahler

    FOREIGNID: 15526
    i thought this program was dreadful. trotting out (not very well chosen) disabled people to sell “the latest technology” i.e. “freedom machines.” this is an industry piece, an informercial for disability tech. the film maker was really off her game to generate such irritation toward the disabled. film itself was a bad parody of the parody blazing saddles: ‘buy this stuff or we’ll make you watch these pathetic people til you do.’ shame on pov for being party to such rank, artless commercialism.

  • Denise

    FOREIGNID: 15527
    I was surprised and delighted to see this show. We have been raising a high IQ, musically gifted, reading and writing disabled son for 21 years now. This disability runs on the male side of my family. The men are either doctors, lawyers,computer specialists or, if learning disabled, craftsmen and janitors, all with high IQs.
    I grew up with a father who was a sheet metal worker and suffered with repeated unemployment. If jobs were scarce, his employers would try to keep him but would eventually end up keeping only the last few men who could fill out the needed paperwork.
    I desperately do not want this for my son and his children. I Have attended numerous IEP meetings and fought for my son’s rights. I have been told that the
    school district here has highly paid lawyers who fight any lawsuits parents may bring against the district when they refuse to provide needed accomodations. We paid money out of pocket to have our son tested and the district would manipulate the test results ie leave out the lowest sub test, that proved that he needed assistance in reading.
    Other times he would walk up to a teacher, with his IEP in hand and ask for the allowed accomodations that we were able to eek out of them , and the teacher would refuse to give them to him. The teachers would say, “Oh, I think you can do this, just break it up into little parts and keep at it.
    Luckily our son survived his extreme depression that he developed, and was able to put his thoughts into music. He is now a very caring young man and is concerned about justice for those who have no voice in our society.
    Your show gives me hope that our world will continue to progress in the appreciation of all people and realize what help is available through technology.