#Comic_Chat_Phoenix History

The story behind the Mission

By Joseph Steele

This all began as many things do, with an Idea. The Idea that a person with disabilities could extend beyond the boundaries of their existence and could achieve a better quality of life with the use of current technology. Mrs. Francine St. Jean was the soul of the Idea, which was conceived on a trip to the local community center.

The community center had setup four Personal Computers to allow people to check out the Internet. Mrs. Francine St. Jean, on a suggestion from her husband, went to the community center with a mission. Mrs. St. Jean thought about what she would do with her little time on the Internet. Her thoughts went back to a teenager named Melissa Belland. Melissa has Cerebral Palsy. This brave young woman had been using a chin pointer to type on a personal computer, but time had taken its toll and her neck movement was seriously affected. As a result she was unable to move enough to continue using the computer that was essentially her only means of communication, and so she languished for 2 years in silence.

With this in mind Francine sat down in front of the computer. She typed a few choice words into the Yahoo search engine and soon found what she was looking for in bold print. It was the «Eyegaze System». The «Eyegaze System» was built to allow people like Melissa Belland the chance to communicate, by enabling them to type with their eyes. Francine quickly searched for a way to purchase an «Eyegaze System» for Melissa, and soon had the young woman communicating again, controlling the computer with her eyes.

Mrs. St. Jean purchased her own personal computer and accessed the Internet herself in September 1997. By a stroke of fate Francine found MS Chat, and started meeting the people in the #Comic_Chat_Help room. A chat friend and mentor Jim Hart (kudzoo) was her inspiration for the chat room for citizens with a disability. He initiated the Ideas for host training and taught her and others technical problem solving abilities so that they could facilitate citizens with a disability access to the Internet and accompany them on this adventure. From this humble beginning she, *Meta-Joy (Francine St. Jean), met Gusto (John Hogan), _Smiley_ (Stefan Vermeulen), Lazer (Joseph Steele), Cuddlybear (Lester Goldblatt), G_man (Gary Edward) and Magik (Phillip Lenon), like minded chat individuals, who were the original members of the international team.

Mrs. Francine St. Jean, with Jim Hart's encouragement, began making a special help room a reality. The chat room #Comic_Chat_Phoenix was brought forth from the fire for all to see. As the room grew, more and more people began to volunteer their services to make the Phoenix chat room blossom. These volunteers dedicated themselves to overcoming Computer barriers to people with disabilities and to getting these special people onto the Internet. The room is dedicated to helping citizens with disabilities and to supporting any chat newbies who are learning how the chat program and other PC programs work. It is also a general chat room just for meeting people and having fun.

Shortly after the establishment of the #Comic_Chat_Phoenix room came the creation of the non-profit organization, The Phoenix On-Line Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to enabling all persons with disabilities access to PC's and empowering citizens with disabilities through the use of computer technology. Francine and a dedicated group of volunteers devote many hours of their free time to further this endeavor, including finding ways to finance the purchase of Melissa's «Eye Gaze System», the purchase of another one for 2 other people who have Cerebral Palsy and the purchase of specialized equipment as the need arises for others. The Phoenix On-Line Foundation has a newsletter and an ever expanding Web Site to distribute vital information about on-line accessibility issues for people with disabilities.

Two years ** after her first Internet and computer experience, Mrs. St Jean, and an ever-growing group of dedicated citizens from all walks of life, continue to facilitate access to computer technology. For most it is a labor of love, always remembering that the idea was born on a trip to see the Internet at a small rural community center.

* In IRC chat rooms, nicknames are the norm. ** Updated: March 2000

Phoenix Foundation