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Carl's Cloud

A tribute to Carl Brown. Here you'll find stories that chronicle the life and philosophy of this remarkable man.

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27 February 2009

On November 21, 2008, Carl Brown passed away after a series of unexpected health issues grew more serious and ultimately critical. Carl was 62 years old and, by all accounts, had led an amazing life that touched many people both directly and indirectly. While his loss is devastating, it is important to recognize the powerful contributions Carl gave to the world of assistive technology and education. It is impossible to talk about Carl’s contributions without mentioning his character, as his subtle wit and compassionate generosity served to underscore his vision, deep insight, and powerful intellect. It is this combination of personal qualities that allowed Carl to accomplish so much and create a lasting legacy that will continue to touch and improve the lives of students with disabilities. A true visionary, Carl understood technology like few others, but his belief in education and the human spirit allowed him to find a unique context in which to embody his vision.



In seashell shops along the ocean highway to Key West, hidden away in dusty corners or out-of-the-way displays, you can sometimes find an otherwise humble seashell which has made itself wonderful by cementing rare and strange objects from the seafloor to its shell. By becoming a creature of the aggregate, this modest shell raises itself above other members of its class and becomes rare and unique amongst all the shells of the ocean.

There are a few magical places in the world which, for some, are worth any sacrifice. Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, Venice and Paris in Europe, San Francisco and New York in the United States are magnets for the young and unattached who resonate to whatever magic these places possess. Big Sur and Carmel Valley rank high on the list of irresistible places for those drawn to magnificent natural beauty, alternative lifestyles and the literary and transformative mythos of the landscape.



ALONG THE EL CAMINO — Disabled In the Age of Computers Bill Workman, San Francisco Chronicle Friday, July 4, 1997

Carl Brown says he never gave much thought to how damaging a disability can be to a person’s self-esteem, until he took on teaching computer literacy to a group of disabled youngsters several years ago. It’s a surprising admission considering that Brown was born with a muscular deficiency that gradually robbed him of his strength, and 15 years ago, put him in a wheelchair to stay.

He’s barely able to lift a withered arm to tap out computer keyboard commands with his right index finger. “But my disability has never been my defining characteristic for me,” says Brown, 50, of Cupertino. “It can be inconvenient at times, but it’s never been the center of my life.”

For the past 10 years, Brown, a former Zen Buddhist monk, computer systems consultant, textbook author and devoted science-fiction fan, has been director of the High-Tech Training Center, for instructors who teach the estimated 50,000 disabled students enrolled in state community colleges. Teachers and administrators Brown has taught have gone on to establish similar high-tech instructional programs on 118 campuses in the state, including several in the UC system.

The Cupertino center, located next to DeAnza Community College and run by the state community college system, also researches, tests and evaluates new and emerging technologies that help the disabled, for example, speech recognition programs and screen scanners that read text aloud for the visually impaired. The centers fill a void left by the nation’s schools of education. “Many of the colleges where teachers go to learn about teaching don’t teach about teaching with technology,” Brown says, despite the effort to ensure Internet links to the nation’s classrooms. “Few have made the same effort to help teachers understand how to teach with it.” The telecommunications age calls for the instructor to “give up the notion that they are the sole repository of information and become more of a facilitator of the learning process,” he says.

At the same time, he warns that while the Americans with Disabilities Act and new technologies have given the disabled greater access to knowledge and jobs, there are ominous signs that they could lose ground. As higher education turns to “distance learning” and the virtual classroom, and software designers turn their attention to security issues and dazzling graphics that can’t be read by scanners for the visually impaired, `”the disabled could become disenfranchised” from educational opportunity, he says. Nonetheless, he is encouraged that at the annual World Wide Web conference a few months ago in San Jose, Web accessibility for the disabled was a major focus of concern.

Brown, who wears a scraggly, rust- gray beard and single gold earring, has a calm, unhurried manner that puts people at ease. It was apparently nurtured during 12 years as a member of small Zen Buddhist community, first in San Francisco and later in the Carmel Valley, in the 1970s and 1980s. He also spent a year alone in meditation in a log cabin atop a valley mountain, shortly before he turned to the world of computers as a career. While teaching computers to disabled students in Monterey, he married Martha Kanter, who had hired him to set up a similar program at Monterey Peninsula College. Kanter is now president of De Anza College.

Brown says he first embraced Zen philosophy as a teenager in Gardena, in Southern California, which has a sizable Japanese American community. “Most of my childhood friends were Japanese.” Brown says Zen taught him that “When you are hungry, you eat; when you get tired, you sleep, and you try to find a right life that doesn’t hurt anyone.”

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