My name is Peter Farrell and I am a C4/5 quadriplegic.
I have worked in the computer industry for more than 30 years in a variety of technical roles, primarily writing computer software and in technical support roles. For the last seven years I have been working for IBM where I have been responsible for investigating and improving the performance of large multiuser computers for our customers.
At the end of 2005 I was in a motor vehicle accident when our car rolled off the side of the road. I was airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital ( Sydney ). As it happens, the hospital is only a few hundred metres from my office and so my colleagues were frequent visitors while I was in intensive care and in the spinal ward.
My initial reaction to my injuries was that if I could use my arms and I could still type then I could continue working. All would be okay. At this stage I did not realise and the specialists did not tell me that I was likely to have no hand function. This rather significant problem took a little while to sink in. However, the occupational therapists pointed me in the direction of onsite TAFE teachers who assisted me in learning voice operated software for controlling my laptop. Once I saw this in operation and tried it myself I realised that “no hands” was no longer a problem. Coupling the voice control software with a mouth controlled mouse put me back in control of my laptop. I signed up for a wireless Internet connection while still in hospital and resumed reading my company e-mail and keeping in touch with colleagues electronically.
IBM has a very strong track record concerning people with disabilities. I worked with the company’s rehabilitation specialist on my return to work. This involved assessing approximately how many hours a week I could expect to work and what infrastructure I would need in the office. My initial estimates of being able to work a full 40 hour week were, of course, optimistic as I would get tired towards the end of each day. However I did manage five days a week. Now, nine months after my return to work I am working full-time. The company has provided a modified desk high enough for my wheelchair to fit underneath and so that I can get close enough to my screen and mouth mouse.
More significantly, I have returned to work in the same team I was with before my accident and I am doing the same work I was doing before my accident. Psychologically this provides a great boost and motivation. I am the same person I was before my accident.