Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and to help bring awareness to women in tech, I signed this petition saying I'd blog about "a woman in technology whom I admire." If you don't know who Ada Lovelace is, or why it even matters, the purpose of this day is to bring women to the forefront to act as positive role models for other women and young girls. Still not convinced this matters? Check out this great blog post by Suw Charman-Anderson. She explains it much more eloquently than I can.
So anyway, I pledged that I would write about a woman that I admire. The woman I've chosen to write about goes by the nick "uberChick". She maintains a blog at http://uberchicgeekchick.com/ and in her own words, "I'm a female open source artist, programmer, & designer living with Generalized Dystonia. I'm emotional, over share, & truly caring." uberChick's name is Kaity and she's quite simply, one of the most amazing and inspirational people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
uberChick regularly posts informative and thought-provoking podcasts on programming and the art of and expressiveness in the industry (available on her site and through Hacker Public Radio). She's a huge advocate of FOSS, has created her own GTK/GNOME Twitter client called Greet-Tweet-Know, and is also programming her own first person game simulator, among other things. Like many of us, uberChick has many interests and is juggling many projects at once. In fact, she tweeted a while ago: "My projects: 4 web apps, 2 GTK apps, 1 3-D Terminal, 1 graphic novel, 2 novellas, 3 drawings, & #1: my game!" From her website, this is what she says about herself:
She is very active on Twitter and often times I find myself Googling just to keep up with what the heck she's talking about :).
uberChick is also an active member of PHPWomen, DevChix, LinuxChix, and always, ALWAYS, has a positive message to share with those around her. Usually those messages are sent via Twitter, but she also uses IRC to spread her messages of hope, encouragement and inspiration.
She is a very intelligent, creative, beautiful person that never ceases to amaze me.
Now, if that weren't enough, as I mentioned earlier, uberChick lives with a very debilitating and excruciatingly painful disease called Generalized Dystonia. If you're not familiar with this devastating disease, Wikipedia states that "the dystonias are movement disorders in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures." She has the unfortunate case of "Generalized" Dystonia which means that her entire body is affected by these severe muscle contractions, not just an arm or a leg. Dystonia is a chronic disease for which there is no cure.
So basically, Kaity spends every waking moment fighting and struggling to manage her pain. She lives on her own, is in a wheelchair and although she has a little help via a home caregiver from time to time, she is completely independent. Her muscles often betray her, twisting her and turning her body into extremely painful contortions, while her mind remains unscathed. She told me a story once about how even her eyelids spasm and force her eyelids shut for long periods of time. Imagine living day-to-day, not knowing each minute if your body will turn you into a ball of agony, and not being able to do much about it if (read: when) it does. Imagine having wonderful ideas for projects and code and blog posts and podcasts... and not being able to focus or implement them because you're in so much pain. And even when the pain subsides, Imagine trying to control unruly and uncooperative fingers to type out what is in your brain. Kaity lives many days in a prison of suffering and agony.
Kaity has also had to deal with prejudice and even harmful threats from those around her. She has struggled with the nightmare that is the American healthcare system, unreliable caregivers, legal proceedings, and faulty medical equipment, just to name a few of the external obstacles that face her.
It would be easy for her to simply give up. Or, she could be bitter, angry, and frustrated. She could try and elicit pity from people. All of these would be perfectly reasonable responses to her lot in life. But Kaity has chosen to do none of the above. She fights. Every day. She inspires, and motivates, and encourages. Every day.
Kaity has taken control of her own care by hiring her own caregivers as employees. She has also developed an amazing talent as a result of all the ideas floating around in her head, and nowhere for them to go. Kaity can write complete applications in her head. She can visualize the code and store it in her brain, ready for the moment when her body decides to cooperate. And when it does, she writes out as much as she possibly can. 9 times out of 10 her code works out of the box. I should be so lucky! :)
The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation says that "dystonia affects men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds. Estimates suggest that no less than 300,000 people in North America are affected. Dystonia causes varying degrees of disability and pain, from mild to severe. There is presently no cure, but multiple treatment options exist and scientists around the world are actively pursuing research toward new therapies." If you would like to support the Dystonia cause, you can go to the Dystonia Medical Research website to learn how you can help.
Kaity, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your strength and inspiration. I salute *you* today and all those who follow in your footsteps.