ETTAC helps disabled East Tennessee man get technology to go back to school

Joel Simmons

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – You can call him a client, an intern or even a “soon-to-be” employee, but no matter what you call him, Joel Simmons is a true ambassador for the East Tennessee Technology Access Center.

Simmons was in a car accident six years ago that forever changed his life. Today, at 55, it’s clear to see that a new chapter for Simmons is only just beginning.

“Just having the right technology, just like if you were working on your car, you have to have the right tools,” Simmons said.

Simmons found those right tools at ETTAC. After extensive rehab, he decided to go back to school for his master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in rehabilitation, but actually doing his classwork was not so easy.

“I had a laptop computer my first semester. And I was trying to move the mouse pad with my thumb to move the cursor, and these fingers were running all over stuff,” he said.

Related story: ‘Christmas in July’ toy drive to help East Tennessee kids with disabilities

Simmons got a referral to ETTAC where they got him a computer that could be voice controlled and was modified for exactly what he needed.

“So I came to ETTAC. They got me a computer, got the Dragon [speech recognition software] set up. I’ve got what they call a track ball. So for cursor movement, I’ve got a ball that’s half the size of a softball,” he said.

Simmons is set to graduate next month from UT. He has been getting internship credits working at ETTAC, though after graduation, he will no longer be an intern – he’ll be an employee. One of his biggest goals is raising awareness and helping others to continue living life to the fullest.

“It’s not that people don’t care what’s going on, but when something like my injury or a child born with a disability touches your family, that’s when it gets real.”

Simmons says that while most people think of people with disabilities in wheelchairs, that they only make up a small part of the disabled community and that ETTAC has a variety of services to also helped the visually and hearing impaired.

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