Adrian has been disabled since birth, as a result of spina bifida, and is involved with a number of organisations supporting disabled people.
Adrian’s interest in chemistry started at a young age; he enjoyed generating intense colours from colourless ingredients in his chemistry kit and using chemicals from the local pharmacist in experiments. He admits this “probably wouldn’t be allowed today as these included concentrated acids.”
Research and the transition to IT
After completing his undergraduate chemistry degree, he moved on to study for a PhD in theoretical chemistry at University College London. “This was mainly computing and programming the University of London ATLAS computer,” explains Adrian, and this was his first significant step towards a career in IT.
In 1973, whilst a research assistant at the Institute of Computer Science, University College London, Adrian was involved with a research team who were working on ARPANET, the experimental computer network of the US Department of Defense. ARPANET became the internet in the mid-1970s, and one of Adrian’s responsibilities was the implementation of email in the UK.
His background in chemistry proved useful throughout his career. “Generally, the skills that anyone picks up (or should pick up!) during undergraduate and postgraduate courses are of considerable use, for example, the requirement to think logically and to be highly analytical. Specific knowledge of chemistry was particularly useful in my work in the NHS. As director of computing at St Thomas' Hospital, we put in a pathology system and it was very useful to be able to talk to the pathology staff at the appropriate level.”
Spina bifida and services to disabled people
“The main obstacle I think I've faced is prejudice. I've noticed that, when I've applied for a job and mentioned my disability, I've been a lot less likely to get invited for interview. However, if I don't mention my disability and have an interview, I think the decision has been taken on merit.”
Adrian has spina bifida, a fault in the development of the spine and spinal cord that leaves a gap in the spine. “My walking ability is very limited and for about half my life I've used a wheelchair, although I can walk short distances. Generally, people have been very supportive.”
Although Adrian has faced some prejudice during his career, he has achieved more than most. With the proudest moment of his career “being recognised (on a plaque at Stanford University, California) as one of the founders of the internet,” it is clear he hasn’t let his disability affect his success.
Adrian has dedicated much of his life supporting organisations for disabled people; he is life vice-president of the Mobilise Organisation/Disabled Motoring UK and is also a foundor governor for the car leasing scheme for disabled people, amongst others. In 1983 he was awarded the OBE for services to disabled people.
“As in all job environments, attention needs to be paid to the needs of a widely disparate group of people. Most people tend to associate disability with use of a wheelchair, whereas there's a wide range of disabilities, including sensory disabilities. Small adjustment,s which are relatively simple and aren't to the detriment of other people, should be implemented whenever possible.”
Now semi-retired, Adrian does freelance consultancy; he is involved in national and international standards bodies and enjoys the flexibility and the intellectual challenges of chairing the various committees. He has also just completed a degree in law and a postgraduate certificate in commercial mediation; as he puts it, “something to pass the time.”
Words by Vicki Marshall
Images courtesy of Adrian V Stokes
Published December 2014