The Need to Succeed - The Jerry E. Cromer, Jr. Story
The first seventeen years of my life were typical of the average young boy. When I was seventeen, however a water skiing accident drastically changed my life and my future. I had just graduated from high school, and was enjoying the summer, before entering the University of South Carolina in the fall to pursue an engineering degree. This devastating accident left me a C4-5 quadriplegic, which means I am paralyzed, from the neck down. The only motion I have is limited upper shoulder and arm movement. This accident made me extremely dependent upon my family and friends for help and support. I thought my dream of becoming an engineer was lost forever.
I went through years of trying to get myself situated, stamina-wise, not only in learning to focus on life again and setting new goals, but also in getting over the "I am not going to be satisfied unless I can get up and walk off" feeling. I guess this is where it comes into play that God healed my mind during this time. This healing is what has made my life, as it is today, possible. God helped me learn to focus and channel my energy toward something that was productive and not something that was unrealistic.
I had heard about computer graphic engineering several years before I actually became ready to look into it. I just knew there was something out there for me to run a computer with, as far as adaptive or assistive technology. I felt secure with that. I figured the only problem I was going to have was convincing myself that it was time to tackle going to school and being in a classroom with all those people - and how will I handle all of this? Also, such things as how do I get back and forth to school? At that time, I didn't even have a lift in my van - I had a piece of plywood that I used to run up and down with. It was either that or ride in the back of Dad's pickup truck, and that was kind of rough, especially when it was raining!
Once I decided I wanted to go, I called the University of South Carolina, as well as the Vocational Rehabilitation Centers, IBM and other major computer facilities for the assistive technology to meet my needs. I even went to see the engineering and drafting department of the Vocational Rehabilitation Center. They had nothing to offer someone with my degree of disability. It was all "just doors closed in my face" kind of deal. I visited one Vocational Rehabilitation facility and was humiliated because they just did not comprehend my particular situation. I was treated like a mentally disabled person rather than a physically disabled person. I guess maybe it was just me being more aware of the way things were that may have caused me to emphasize a lot of overkill. I just felt that way - I really felt inferior - plus the simplicity of the evaluation they were giving me seemed to stress mental rather than physical capabilities - like "is this a circle- square - rectangle?"
Once I was able to get past that, I went to take a look at their computer - aided drafting department, and they didn't have anything there for me either. They had a
basic standard digitizer transducer with some type of adaptive handbrace attached to it. The range of injury required to operate this transducer was probably a C-7 (lower spinal injury) where the handicapped person has pretty good control - probably triceps and biceps, and probably a thumb and a finger or two that they are able to move, as well as wrist extension. They just didn't have anything for me.
Everywhere I turned I found that educational opportunities in my chosen career field were extremely limited due to the limitations of the equipment.
I went to Central Carolina Technical College and talked with the guidance counselors. They wanted me to study English, Math and History and told me I couldn't go right into AutoCAD. I told them, "Look, I want to take AutoCAD - the course. If I can go in there and figure out a way to run that computer - because that's where my problem is - then I don't mind taking the other required classes. But until I can bridge the gap between my disability and that computer, I am not going to take two or three years of all these other classes, and then get to the computer again and have a huge stumbling block. That would be a tremendous letdown." I wanted to interface with that computer when I went in there - and I wasn't willing to settle for anything less.
Finally, I just got in touch with the professor because the guidance counselor told me I would not be able to go directly into AutoCAD. When I went to talk with the professor, I explained to him what I wanted to do, and why I was there. He talked to me for about thirty to forty-five minutes, asking me different questions. He asked me some math questions and showed me some pictures of different parts and pieces. For instance, he might show me a two-dimensional view, then ask me to describe the third dimension, and this I was able to do. He made me feel good by saying that I had received a good education in high school, and evidently to him, it seemed that way. I guess it was really a combination of all of it - I had done a lot of reading after my accident - and I have always enjoyed messing around with mechanical stuff. I was fortunate, to that I had built a good mechanical foundation by working with Dad on many projects since I was a small child.
The professor finally said, "Son, if you are willing to take this class, I am willing to teach you, and I'll go sign you up." He said, "There are so many students that come here where either their parents are making them attend or either their job is requiring them to attend and their employers are paying for it. I can see the determination you have, and there is no way in the world I would tell you no. So, you've got a teacher here. If I've got a student in you, you've got a teacher in me."
That is when it all started. I picked up my books that day went home, and I read the whole book the first day. I didn't understand hardly anything I was reading - it was like a foreign language to me. The next day I read it again, the next day again and then I started to comprehend. I started realizing what I was reading and started relating to it even though I hadn't pushed the first button on the computer. I began getting my own feeling for the layout, the format of AutoCAD. I realized it was going to be another stepping stone to apply it to the actual digitizer and the
actual keyboard, but I had my own perception of how AutoCAD worked by reading the book.
I was fairly oriented with it when I started, and they assigned me a student assistant. He was a graduate student there, and had been there for several years. He was an engineering student so he had already taken all of these courses. He would sit down with me, I would tell him what to type in and he would type it. I would tell him where to put the puck on the digitizer, I would tell him what buttons to mash and what to do, and we just started moving ahead.
The professor seemed proud that I was in the class. He saw how far I was going with it, and my student assistant was telling him also. After the first three or four days, the professor told me, "Jerry, you just go right ahead. Go at your own pace - you already ahead of us - you just do your own thing." So, I did, and after the first week to week and one-half, I was showing the student assistant things that he had not seen. He would say, "How did you do that? I never knew it would do that?" I would explain it to him, and he would say "Jerry, I've been taking all these classes and I still never knew that?" What they didn't realize is that I had nothing else to do, and I had something to prove. Everybody said I couldn't do this, and I couldn't do that - and I was ready to prove everyone wrong. I love a challenge - just like my pop. I can't stand being challenged by something when you can't figure out some solution - maybe not how to get up and walk again, but at least some way to better myself.
After about two weeks, I asked the professor if I could take the puck and digitizer apart. He reluctantly said, "Well, OK. I guess we'll let you do that, but please don't mess it up." I assured him we wouldn't - to just relax.
A good friend of mine, and I took the puck and digitizer apart and looked at it. I memorized the wire code in the transducer - I think it was an eight-pin configuration on that particular model. When we opened the cover, I knew what we could do - it just hit me! It was almost like de'ja-vous you know, like I had already done this at another time - I already had the answers - just that fast - there was no debating or thinking about it - I already knew it!
I memorized the wire code and we put it all back together again. I did not want anybody to write anything down for me because I knew what I was going to do! I just didn't want to let the cat out of the bag.
I went home; almost everybody that comes in and out all the time was gone. I got Dad in there and told him what I had seen, what I had done. I explained to him what it was like and got him to write down the wire color codes and the way they were reconnected to what pins and to what configuration. I told him what I wanted to do and asked him if he thought it was possible. He was like me - he said, "Sure!" So we jumped on it, Dad has always been supportive from the very beginning and was eager to take on our new challenge.
My professor called Dad to discuss what I was planning to do. Dad asked him if I was able to control the digitizer, what would I be able to do with today's computer technology? The professor immediately said, "It's unlimited, he can do anything!" Of course, I already knew that all I had to do was to prove to that computer that I was not disabled.
After being in class only a few weeks, we had our first fall break - it must have been at Thanksgiving. The professor gave us a CalComp digitizer to bring home. At that time, only Dad and I knew the details of what has become our patented Quadpuck.
We quickly picked up a lot of electronic parts here and there, brought them back home, and stayed up all night long putting this thing together. We built "the thing" that night! The next morning, my friend and I carried it to the Central Carolina Technical College building. They were closed for the holiday break, but they had painters in there painting. We opened the door, slipped in, went down to the computer room, fired that computer up, plugged "the thing" in, and it took off.
I cannot describe the feeling - it was like I got up and took a few steps, you know! It was wonderful! Another professor I knew happened to be in the building, he walked by the door, stuck his head in, and asked, "What are you guys doing here? Y'all can't get enough of this?" I replied, "Nah, I had to try out this new device we were working on." He took a look at "the thing", and he had a fit! He was bouncing all over the place. We were all tickled to death, and he called the Dean down there. He wanted to write articles on it, put it in the newspapers, but I asked him not to do this. I told him I really did not want to release anything yet because I wanted to patent it. We just didn't want to take any chances.
So, nothing was put in the papers, and we slowly took that model and upgraded and upgraded and upgraded - and kept making it better and better. We made it more adaptable to the disabled user because on my first model, I was bound to it. On that particular model, we had mounted the mouthpieces on my harmonica support; therefore, I had to have it around my neck. This was a proud realization - the birth of the Quadpuck! I was in class running the computer with it around my neck. I still have this first model - I call it the dinosaur - and that dinosaur has come a long way. It has been wide open ever since.
When I went through the class at Central Carolina TEC, I worked hard to do the very best I could. Naturally I made an A - because I wouldn't have accepted anything less. Everyone was so proud of my grade and my accomplishments - but they couldn't have been as proud of them as I was. I was on "Cloud 9". At that point, I went back to enroll to take the English, Math, History and all the other classes I needed. I signed up for the other courses, paid my tuition, and was ready to continue school.
But my plans were about to change again. When I returned home, I learned that Westinghouse had called me. They had heard good things about me, what I had done and what my capabilities were, and they wanted somebody to do electrical drawings on CAD for them at Westinghouse. They asked me if I was interested. I was scared to death but I said, "Sure, let's go for it! Let's see what we can do."
That was the foundation of Cromer's Enterprises. I hired an attorney, set up Cromer's Enterprises of Sumter, Inc., got a business license and bought my first computer.
Westinghouse hired my newly founded company, Cromer's Enterprises, and we started off with a six-month contract. I was so into the work that I was working twelve hours a day, maybe even fifteen hours. I had something to prove and I was going to prove it. My goal was to be as productive as any non-disabled employee they had had, and I was! It wasn't that I was any better that any of them, I just had something to prove, and also the fact that I had no interruptions. I was left alone, Grandmomma and Dad were here and they would come check on me occasionally but I was able to work without interruption. The people in the plant environment have phones ringing off the hook, people are in and out, and they have to go from the engineering facility to the plant, and all those types of things. In an eight-hour day, they might get two and one-half to three hours behind the CAD machine where I was getting a full twelve to fifteen hours. I know for the first six months, I was up when it was dark and got through working when it was dark. I might have gone outside for lunch for a few minutes. I was like a kid with a new toy, I just could not get enough of it! I just about burned myself out because I worked that kind of schedule for about a year and one half.
By word of mouth, Carolina Power & Light Company heard about me, as well as Interlake, Farmers Telephone Cooperative, and others and it just started growing. I didn't have time to go back to school but I got half of my tuition money back. Since that time it has been full speed ahead.
Now Cromer's Enterprises has eight engineering and CAD stations with eleven highly qualified employees, as well as the Quadpuck manufacturing facility. We have met most of the goals we have set and are dedicated to improving the quality of life for the disabled - the sky's the limit!
Now the computer does not know I am disabled. It is probably one of the few things that don't know I am disabled, but I am able to totally control it. We have taken the art of writing our own software programs for windows and have developed "AirKeys". The AirKeys software is allowing us in any windows program to be able to type on the screen using the digitizer; therefore, I don't need the keyboard anymore. This opens the door for a wider range of disabilities - anyone who would have trouble using the standard keyboard. For me, this was like getting up and taking another step.
God has been with me every step of the way, and He's done all of this, He's gone through our minds to do it. Truthfully, if God were to appear today, and say He was going to heal me and not heal anybody else, that is not what I would want. Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, and I really do mean this, God has healed my mind, so I am fine. You know, it does not bother me to be this way. It is frustrating, I'm not going to lie; sometimes it is tough, but I am proud of who I am and I am proud of my accomplishments. As long as you can be proud, you are going to survive. With assistive technology such as the Quadpuck, everyone can be a little
better and hopefully other fellow disabled people if they were given that option, would have the same response and be willing to share their healing power and use it in a constructive way to help others. I once read, "Success is not measured by what we acquire in life but by what we give" With this in mind, we are all capable of some degree of success, it is just a matter of how much we are willing to give. Through technology, we're slowly being healed, and that's all that man can do at this point.
The Quadpuck is just mine and Dad's extension of my healing and we want to share it with all disabled individuals. God has given to each of us a great gift, a good mind and the ability to use it through the invention of the Quadpuck. What we do with this gift. How we share our accomplishments with others, will be our gift to God.
To be contiuned...