Sunday, June 14, 2009

Meet Dr. Bob Segalman

Bob Segalman, Ph.D., is a lot like you and some of your friends. He's funny, smart, and accomplished. However, with apologies to "The Wizaard of Oz," Bob has one thing you haven't got -- cerebral palsy.

Bob was partially asphyxiated at birth by his umbilical cord. He has limited use of all four limbs and talks only slightly above an inaudible whisper. His family and mine were friends sixty years ago in Peoria, Illinois.

I still remember being in a barber shop with him when we were teenagers -- me getting my hair cut, Bob waiting patiently for his turn. Bob's voice was stronger then, although it still took a long time for him to formulate and pronounce words. He had just explained that he would soon be going to college. Incredulous and callously skeptical, the barber (they weren't "hairstylists" yet, and a haircut cost $4) then wondered aloud -- as if those gathered in his shop would have some miraculous knowledge -- what Bob would study. Unabashedly and I think somewhat proudly, Bob answered "Psychology!"

And study he did, earning a Ph.D. in sociology in 1972 from the University of Wisconsin. He was employed for years by the State of California, working for 32 years for the Departments of Developmental Services, Justice, and Rehabilitation, before retiring in 2004.

Bob is the sole driving force behind a valuable program called "Speech Communication Assistance By Telephone, Inc." It provides an operator with special equipment and special training to "translate" telephone conversations between two people, at least one of whom, like Bob, cannot speak loudly enough to be heard in the regular way. If you're looking for a lesson in persistence, you just found it! Bob personally lobbied more than 100 California State Legislators in 1996 to secure support from the Pubic Utilities Commission (PUC) for a full-scale test. The service is now provided in Sweden and Australia and has been recognized by the Federal Communications Commission as a requirement for all common carriers. Shoot, it's even available in Texas!

Speech to Speech is a non-profit organization that advocates for a continuation of this valuable resource to the PUC, which funds operational expenses. I get periodic requests from Bob to make donations and to write statements of support. The impression I get is that the PUC supports Speech to Speech somewhat reluctantly. Could it be that none of the Commissioners has CP?

Bob's autobiography, "Against the Current -- My Life with Cerebral Palsy," is now available. You can get it from Bob was kind enough to let me read a draft, and he even tolerated my comments (boy, do I love to edit!). The book is clever, funny, and poignant.

If I can muster half of Bob's focus and discipline, maybe someday I'll finish my current book project "I Pledge Allegiance: To What? The Paradox of 'Me.'" Bob will have a chance to edit a draft if he's willing!


  1. I roomed with Bob back when he was in grad school, working on that PhD. He was quite a remarkable character then, and I knew he would finish that degree. I'm just as proud of his accomplishments as if I had actually helped.

  2. My then girl friend and now wife and I knew Bob when we were all in grad school at Wisconsin in the late 1960s. He lived in the Friends coop and so did my wife. An eclectic group if there ever was one, but many of us are still in touch, largely as a result of Bob's efforts. And who can beat his smile and laugh. Not too long ago a few of us had a reunion lunch in Boston, when Bob was attending a meeting there. His smile and laugh were just the same.