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Blind Microsoft Programmer Pushes Conference To Challenge Status Quo

October 11, 2018

Blind Microsoft Programmer Pushes Conference To Challenge Status Quo

SCRANTON — Brett Humphrey’s grades were so bad, he left them off his resume when he first applied for an internship at Microsoft in the 1980s. Floundering with a 0.08 grade point average, he nearly flunked out of college his first semester until he decided to take ownership of his disability, he said at the University of Scranton’s 17th annual U.S. Conference on disAbility. “There was a rhythm that I forgot was there,” he said. “Part of that was I just thought I could sit down and learn, but there was a new set of people that I didn’t sit down and talk with about what I need to be successful.” Humphrey, 45, is legally blind. Apart from learning how to read, type and code software in spite of his disability, he followed his parents’ example and learned to aggressively question the status quo, he said. He’s now a program manager for Microsoft, the company that tossed his first internship application but gave him a second crack at it a year later. He develops technology and computer software that makes using computers easier for people with disabilities to use. His parents challenged the South Dakota school district officials that pushed him toward a special school for kids with low vision. His dad’s philosophy, he said, was “how do you maximize the potential for someone’s success?” University officials convened the first disAbility conference nearly two decades ago to give people living or working with disabilities an overview of the latest developments in technology, health care and public policy that affects them, said Edward Leahy, honorary chairman of Thursday’s conference. Along with his wife, Patricia, Edward Leahy set up an endowment in memory of their son, Edward R. Leahy Jr., to fund research and programs that help people with disabilities live better lives. The conference is part of that. “What we really wanted to do was inform the community on evidence-based practice,” said Lori Bruch, conference co-chair and head of the university’s counseling and human services department. Speakers during the all-day seminar talked about using technology, such as wearable devices, smart phones and voice assistants, for example Amazon’s Alexa, to give people with disabilities more freedom. Patricia Leahy, government affairs director for the National Rehabilitation Association, warned that a movement among some lawmakers and administration officials in Washington, D.C., aims to roll back regulations protecting competitive integrated employment, or programs that help people with disabilities master skills and find jobs in typical workplaces. “We’ve come so far with competitive integrated employment, that would be such a step back,” she said. Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter

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