Forward by Mike Burks
I have been in touch with Dr. Zhangxu and Dr. John Aldis many times in the last 2 years or so. Ever since the Dr. Aldis first contacted me. Dr Zhangxu's story in an inspiring one, but more importantly it emphasizes the need for Universal Accessibility of the Internet and how it can help people who might not normally be able to communicate with each other for any number of reasons, to work and communicate easily using the Internet and Technology In Dr. Zhangxu's case and in the case of many people with disabilities this has been brought about by making the Internet accessible by the use of various types of assistive technology now available. The important thing for everyone to understand is that Universal Access is something that is sorely needed in all parts of the world. Everyone should have an opportunity to communicate using the Internet and Dr. Zhangxu's story is a wonderful example of how this access can help people communicate across sometimes otherwise insurmountable barriers. People with disabilities may have the most visible barriers but many others exist. Universal Access is an achievable goal that everyone should support.
If anybody asks me what the Internet means to me, I will tell him without hesitation: To me (a quadriplegic) the Internet occupies the most important part in my life. It is my feet that can take me to any part of the world; it is my hands which help me to accomplish my work; it is my best friend - it gives my life meaning.
Before 1998, I knew almost nothing about computers and the Internet. To me, they were just a “fad.” I had no idea about what it had to with people's daily lives. It was not until June of that year (about a year after my accident) when I finally realized what a miracle it really is. After translating the book, JONI, while lying in my hospital bed in Beijing, I tried unsuccessfully to find the author (Ms. Joni Eareckson Tada) in order to clarify the copyright for my Chinese translation of her wonderful book. I sent three letters to her at the address in the book over a period of four months, but I never got a response. Yet it took my good friend, Dr. John Aldis, only a few hours to find Joni through the Internet, and a few days later I had her warm greeting letter sent to me from the United States!
It was then that I began to really understand what a computer and the Internet could mean to a quadriplegic like me. "What if I had a computer and I could stroll about in the colorful Internet World!" I dreamed. But because of my financial problems, I had no reason to hope that my dream would remain anything but just that - a dream.
That was a period of tremendous stress in my life; I was almost totally isolated. All I could do everyday was to sit in my small hospital room and kill time watching boring TV programs. In fact, at that time I badly needed to keep contact with Joni for the further discussions on the copyright issue. The greatest headache to me was that I could not use my hands while there nobody around me who knew English well enough to help me with my writing, so a simple thing like writing a letter was a huge problem. Even sending the letter was a problem for the cost of a fax from my home in Anshan to the United States is very expensive.
Nevertheless, Dr. Aldis in Beijing did not forget me. He was wondering how best to give me further assistance in order to develop my potential and to make my life meaningful. He finally decided upon a computer and Internet as the best way to help me, and in 1998 he gave me a sophisticated computer and the training I needed to access the World Wide Web. At about the same time, Mr. Al LeBlanc, one of Joni's American friends in Bangkok, bought me a Headmaster cursor-control device. The IBM Company in China donated a set of newly developed ViaVoice software - in both English and Chinese! Now, I could control my computer easily with the movement of my head, my breath and my voice. I was finally digital!
Since then, my life has become very busy. Every single day I contact friends throughout the world through email and even NetMeeting. Many friends, both disabled and able-bodied, read my story from my web site at: www.zhangxu.org and write to me at: email@example.com We talk, communicate and encourage each other, sharing our joy and pain.
On the Internet, I am no longer a quadriplegic. With the help of these many friends, I am again an orthopedic surgeon, conducting online clinical consultations with patients with bone disorders and even helping with the Chinese translation of American medical texts.
Recently I worked online together with John in Jakarta and with Joni and her assistants in the United States to help sort out the many details for Joni's first visit to Beijing; it was wonderful to be able to play an important part of that fantastic visit.
Through the Internet, The Hong Kong Society of Rehabilitation learned about me. They invited me to visit Hong Kong where we could discuss with social workers about how the Internet can influence disabled people's lives. In June of 2000, I visited Hong Kong and gave a speech to the conference in which I shared with my disabled friends there some of the many joys and benefits the Internet had brought me.
For disabled people, computers and the Internet are nothing less than the very best of God’s gifts to us. In Cyberspace the differences between high and low, rich and poor, disabled and able-bodied all melt away! I no longer feel lonely and isolated, for the Internet has brought me so many close friendships. Physically I am still a quadriplegic; I still cannot move about freely like others. I can’t even flick away a mosquito which is biting me. Yet in my digital world, I can work together easily with people anywhere in the world on the same important tasks. None of this was even imaginable to me when I was still able-bodied. Today's world, for me, has become a large digitalized community. In this community, our old notions of physical disability no longer make sense!
I am so lucky to live in a digital age. Advanced digital technology enriches my daily life and makes my existence full of meaning. Without computers and the Internet, I cannot imagine how I could spend my every day in my wheelchair. Disability is still a painful experience but the joy, opportunity and convenience that the Internet brings me is also unlimited. I earnestly wish that every disabled person in the world will someday have a computer of their own so they can have the same chance to make full use of their talents and will feel the love and equality between human beings which I now experience every day of my life.
ZhangXu asked me to help write his note, but as usual, he has done a much better job than I could every have done. With the exception of a few grammatical and spelling fixes, the note is just as he gave it to me. Over the almost three years that I have known ZhangXu, I have been moved many times by his remarkable ability to put his life into words which so clearly describe both his profound disability and his incredible spiritual strength to rise above it. I cried again when reading this note.
The Internet did not give ZhangXu his spiritual strength; he had it burning from his eyes the very first moment my wife and I saw his face. The darkness of his broken body and shattered life made his spirit seem even brighter and harder for us to ignore. The question before us was how we could possibly help my colleague to regain a life and become again somebody serving others rather than being only dependent on them.
When I was explaining to ZhangXu how I had made contact with Joni Eareckson Tada on the Internet, his eyes lit up; it was very difficult for him to understand exactly what I was saying since he had no past experience with computers or the Internet. But he knew I was describing something quite amazing. However, mid-way through the conversation, I said something to the effect, “You know, you could do that yourself!” I didn’t think about it much before I said it, but it clearly impacted heavily on ZhangXu. He wanted to know more, and I patiently explained what very little I knew about voice-recognition software and how disabled people around the world were using computers. Before we knew it, the solution was there before us.
It was never possible for me to do much for ZhangXu; purchasing the computer was the easy part. Getting it assembled, configured, and set up for him took the help from many friends. But the hardest worker of all was ZhangXu himself. I have never seen anybody learn about computers and software more quickly than he did. No experience with computers; not a native English speaker; no previous experience or training with the software packages; nobody in his hometown able to offer regular help - none of this slowed him down. Within a few weeks, I was helping him configure his ICQ program using e-mail! Soon we were sending pictures back and forth and talking regularly on NetMeeting. And when the servers get crowded and NetMeeting slows down too much, Zhangxu switches to his HeadMaster™ cursor-control device and starts typing his notes on the ICQ chat screen!
ZhangXu knows I am a Christian, and he knows how strongly I feel that God’s gifts come in many forms and that His plans are not always for us to know, so ZhangXu will not mind me telling you how grateful I am to God that I was allowed to be part of ZhangXu’s new life. In fact, it is through helping others that we often come to better know God for ourselves. That is the real gift I received in return from ZhangXu.
John W. Aldis, M.D.
Copyright © 2001 Dr. Zhangxu and Dr. John Aldis
Copyright © 1998