I remember my first attempt at being a DJ. It wasn't a paid gig, and the venue was never too busy, but it was the first proper opportunity for me to think of other people's situations.
That probably sounds a little too altruistic for a (then) wannabe DJ, but volunteering at the monthly youth disco at the Irish Wheelchair Association's community center was a bit of an eye-opener. I was only around fifteen, holding a bag of CDs and walking in nervously. The other volunteers were delighted to hear that I was willing to play a few tunes, while the disco-goers - traveling from other centers around eastern Ireland - were curious at best, and nonplussed at worst, over the arrival of the new DJ. Tough crowd, maybe.
The event itself was hardly Club Malibu. The community center's hall was somewhat typical; a function room with the curtains closed over, to block out the light from the bright summer evenings, with a few random disco lights thrown around for good measure. Near the disco's entrance, some of the volunteers had filled up plastic cups with different kinds of sodas, while a couple of volunteers stood nearby to greet the visitors, especially those who had traveled from out of town. There was never more than about forty people who came to the discos, each with varying levels of ability, but they all came to have a good time for a few hours. That's where I came in.
After sheepishly introducing myself to the sound engineer, who had already set up the decks before my arrival, I got to work and played a mixture of '90s chart music and R'n'B. Irish chart music is always a mixture between American and British hits, with a few Irish ones thrown in for good measure, but there's always one favorite tune that people want to hear on a night out. One guy - a 17-year-old called Dave - spun his wheelchair straight over to my corner of the hall to give his request.
"How a' ya, bud", he shouted, with a thick Dublin accent. "Have ya got any Eminem?"
"Think I've 'Lose Yourself' here somewhere", I shouted back, trying to drown out Justin Timberlake on the speakers.
"Perfect man," Dave replied, "there's hope for you yet!"
Dave became something of a sidekick, and an unlikely guide as I learned a little bit more about the people who came to the discos. Some of the people there had been wheelchair-bound all their lives, while some had had accidents. Quite a few had cerebral palsy, some had various stages of multiple sclerosis, and some had less obvious learning difficulties. They all had what would be considered disabilities, and yet their personalities were what fascinated me the most about them all. Some I even came to call friends.
It wasn't until much later in my own life, when I realized that the discos - corny as they were at times - were something to look forward to for many people. It was a chance for people to relax, socialize, laugh, and enjoy life; some things many others take for granted. It also made me realize that if it weren't for all the minibuses, the vans, and the cars which were able to take wheelchair users and others with disabilities, life would be even harder.
Technology has helped many of us in our everyday lives, and many of us take it for granted. From the obvious recent advances like smartphones, to things we quickly forget about like contact lenses and printing machines, advances in technology also help those who us who need a little bit more help than others.
Isn't that what we should be striving towards when making the next great leap forward in discovery? While so much of our media make noise over the latest Apple news, little attention is given to technology that genuinely makes life easier for people. That's not to say that Apple's products aren't accessible to those with disabilities, but where's the balance?
In many ways, those who are innovative with technology, to really make life enjoyable and accessible to all, deserve much more praise and attention than they get.