The photographs Andy Pope fanned out on his desk could have been sad.
They were photographs of people who, on the surface, were being held prisoner by their very bodies. People flat on their backs in beds from Indiana to Michigan to Texas.
The photographic subjects were all quadriplegicsparalyzed by accidents, illness or birth defects. Some were connected to breathing tubes and feeding tubes.
Sad and wrenching, it could have beenbut it wasnt.
Thats because the people in those pictures on Popes desk at the West Virginia University Business Incubator were smiling. And that was because they were connected to something else: their workplaces and classrooms.
Using voice-activated computer systems and other assistive technology designed exclusively for them by Pope, they were able to write business plans and term papers while working on data entry and spread sheets.
They were able to earn college degrees and paychecks.
They were able, said Pope, a rehabilitation consultant who has worked across the United States, to simply be productive members of society.
Thats what all this is about,said Pope, who has designed hundreds of systems for people across the country.We want to get you back to work. Or we want to break you into the workplace so you can be productive.
Now he wants to do the same thing for West Virginians, and with the help of West Virginia University and its new business incubator, he says he can.
Pope is the founder and chief executive officer of Abilities Personnel, and he and his new start-up company in the months ahead plan to create assistive technology systems here while providing job placement for the people using them.
While other companies design systems, and others place the physically disabled in jobs, Pope says his will be the first in the country to do both at the same time.
Its also one of the first companies to go to work in WVU s incubatoran enterprise housed in the Chestnut Ridge Research Building, located near Milan Puskar Boulevard in the heart of a bustling commercial strip in Morgantown.
The incubator is being operated, in part, through the WVU Office of Technology Transfer, under the direction of Bill Pollock.
Pope came to West Virginia six months ago at the request of Gov. Bob Wise, who said he wanted to put Pope to work, so the states 575,000 disabled residentsout of a population of 1.8 millioncould go to work.
That could mean everything from designing voice-activated beds and helping wheelchair users start their mornings without helpto crafting bar code scanning systems so people with limited mobility can still work at computer terminals.
The idea, he said, is to get people workingrather than languishing in a hospital bed or rest home day room.Its that whole idea of being out in the world, being part of something,he said.It makes all the difference.
In West Virginia, that means drawing on a viable, motivated workforce, Pope said. A workforce in the form of the states population of disabled people.
And in the age of outsourcing, he said, it just might mean keeping jobs in the United States, as opposed to elsewhere.
For the past 14 years, Pope has designed systems for everyone from children born with birth defects to college students paralyzed in car crashes and senior citizens made infirm by illness and age. Hes done consulting work for major insurance companies and hospitals across the country, while leading assistive technology seminars at leading colleges and universities, from the University of Texas to Florida State to Notre Dame.
Each system well do (at Abilities Personnel) will be truly unique because it has to be,he said.Everybody wants to talk about �€~disabilities.Well, with us, were going to talk about what abilities you havewhat you can do, and what you need to do.
Pope is spending his first weeks on the job laying the groundwork for his companys philosophy. Education, awareness and positive attitude are the keys, he said, a his company readies for its first clients here in the Mountain State.
Hes especially sure to touch on all three of the above, he said, as he talks to parents of children with debilitating birth defects.
Theres always a way to be mobile, he tells parents and patients. Theres always a solution.
Every client is different,said Pope, who has folder after folder of testimonial letters and thank you notes penned by his clients.
But you always take inventory, at first,he said.You ask questions: �€~Can you move your arms?�€~Can you turn your head to the right or the left?�€~Do you have eye movement?Were going to come up with the technology to build on what you can do, then were going to help you get a job.
For now, he says hes looking forward to building a business in West Virginiaand at
WVU . He and his fellow counselors at Abilities Personnel bring a combined 27 years of experience in a field that helps people adapt.
The adaptability of West Virginias business climate, he said, will make for lots of success stories for his company and his clients.
Its refreshing to do business in a place like this,he said,where youre getting amazing support from both the state and a university.
The feeling is likewise for John Weete, WVU vice president for research and economic development, who says Abilities Personnel has the potential to make a new bottom linein profits and humanity.
The key element of success in this exciting new business is the ability to quickly match the clients requirements for personnel,Weete said.We are very excited about the prospects of creating more jobs and enriching the lives of people with disabilities by linking them to career path opportunities.