Everyone faces challenges in their lives but 33 year old Matthew Smith of Woodbury, owner of was born with cerebral palsy and has faced more than most. Yet, Smith has not let his condition get in his way.
Smith started his computer care business in 2004 and now has about 200 clients in Oxford, Danbury, Brookfield, Woodbury, Southbury and Middlebury.
They include doctors, lawyers, financial planners, at least one police officer, and many small businesses. For all of them, computer security is a critical aspect of their business.
Working out of the Woodbury home he and his family built, Smith said, “This is a full service technology company. Computer care is our prime focus and out of that, most is security work, mostly virus removals.”
Officer George Romano of the has known Smith for five years. “Matt does forensic computer work and I ask him for advice, where to look on a computer if I couldn't find something, and whenever someone screwed up, I called up him. I started the Citizens Police Academy, it's very informative, and every year we have Matt in there to talk.”
Born three months premature, Smith has been in a wheelchair all of his life. As a child, his disability caused him to have difficulty writing. To enable him to attend public school, his parents bought him his first computer at age five. At age six, he wrote his first computer program.
In middle school, Smith met Chris Fleming, who has remained a life-long friend. Fleming, 33, works in Washington, D.C., as a media relations and field relations director with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Fleming said Smith has always impressed him. “There was no challenge he faced without a smile on his face. There was always a higher mountain to climb and by God he was going to climb it. He is absolutely amazing. A lot of people are special but he is an amazing individual.”
In high school, Fleming remembers, “Matt was always on the cutting edge with computers. He knew what it could do and how powerful it was before anyone else. When the Internet came out, he knew all about it, and could already harness the power, and he knew that we were in the dawning of the information age.”
Computers became Smith's livelihood. “I sit in this chair,” he said. “I have cerebral palsy. Not only has this been my work, it's been my entire life.”
Having cerebral palsy plays a small, but frustrating, part in Smith's ability to run a smooth business operation. “I can't get into some of the older buildings; there's no elevator or any other things for wheel chair accessibility. My client in Waterbury has 30 computers and he would love to get me in there to work on them, but it's an old house, and and it's an issue. I keep running into this and expect I will for some time to come. There have been several jobs I have inquired about and almost had and lost because of disability reasons.”
Smith lives with his parents, who help him get around. “It's not that I can't drive,” Smith said, “but what the heck do I do when I get where I am going? I can't tell you how many times I go someplace, and the handicap spots are taken up. If you have a lift van like I have and you can't get your wheel chair out, you are basically done.”
The new house is completely wheelchair accessible. Matt can now do the dishes, cook his own food, “And do the laundry,” his mother added.
They moved into the house on the day of the October snow storm. The family is very close and does many activities together. “Matt did a lot of the stuff in the house. Even the woodwork, Matt and I did the staining,” his mother, Sandi Smith said.
“In addition to the computer," Smith added, "I am a classic car nut, especially the 60s muscle cars. I own a '64 Chevelle. We restored it here and did everything ourselves,” Smith said, pointing to the trophies he and his father have won for drag racing.
“I probably do more with him than I would have if he hadn't been disabled,” his father, Ernie Smith, said. Ernie has worked in construction for many years and brought Matt along with him to work when he was younger.
“We do everything together, we always have," Ernie said. "I made sure he's had a lot of experiences. When he was young, I'd have him up on the roof with me. I built him a tree house and he climbed the ladder and slept out there numerous times. Over the years, he went to work with me on the weekends, and I had him in backhoes and forklifts.”
Smith encounters very little discrimination, but when he does, it comes in the form of people not looking at him. His mother said that even when he asks a question, a sales person in a store is likely to answer her rather than him.
Smith said, “Just because you sit in a wheelchair doesn't mean you are not going to amount to something. That's not necessarily true. There may be people who have CP who aren't going to be able to do much, but that's not necessarily the case with everyone in a wheelchair."
Clients interviewed about the quality of Smith's work raved about it in every sense. “When I have Matt build a computer for me, his work is top quality,” Nick Schmidt, phographer and client, said. "I have referred him to other people and everyone has been as impressed as I have been. In my interaction with Matt, he wants to do the best job for each client. He is as caring as he can possibly be, for standing behind his work, for making each client feel important."
“He's an interesting, remarkable story," Smith's friend, Fleming, said. "The whole family is a heartwarming story. The father takes him to drag races, they built that house, they cleared the lot together, painted together. They never treat him as if he was disabled,” Fleming said.
MATT''S COMPUTER SECURITY TIPS
Smith offered simple advice that all computer users can benefit from. “The biggest problem coming into the shop is security information systems which involves two basic steps. Have good security software on the computer and keep it updated.”
The textbook definition of a virus is a program that can self replicate, Smith said. “It is considered a form of artificial life. There are actually people who study them as an artificial life form.”
“In today's computer environment, there is the virus, the trojan horse, and worms, or spyware. Each has its own definition and they are grouped together as malware.”
“The first step to protecting yourself and your identity is to have a good anti virus, and the second is keeping computers clean.
Be a conservative web surfer, avoid certain types of websites altogether including pornography and sites that have pirated software or key codes for games.
Smith said that many people assume that MacIntosh computers are virus resistant, but Smith warns that those days may be over. “It has nothing to do with the hardware, it has to do with the operating system. OS 10 has had a cloak of safety but it wasn't that popular, so viruses weren't developed to put on there. But as Macs are becoming more popular, there are starting to be some problems.
“The iPads and iPhones are picking up viruses and if you are syncing to your computer, they can transmit, especially if you have any Windows programs installed. They are saying that the OS 10 virus immunity days are over.”
“Identity theft is one of the biggest things going on right now; I see it quite a bit,” Officer Romano said. “It's happened to me twice! Everybody has access to a computer these days, I don't think there is any facet of our lives that are not attached to a computer. If they can break into NASA and UConn (University of Connecticut) they can break in anywhere. I tracked a case from Woodbury to down south, and from there it went to New Zealand, then to Canada. It's so invasive. And you should never give out your credit card to anyone who takes it out of your view, even at a restaurant.”
Romano said that one of the daily security threats people face are from skimmers that are small enough to be kept in a pocket. The card can be run through the skimmer and charges will be undetected until it may be too late.
While Smith cannot protect anyone from the kind of identity theft that occurs online, he spends a considerable amount of time teaching people to protect themselves on the Internet.
Smith has held presentations on a multitude of topics for a variety of community organizations. Subjects such as computer security, identity theft, sexual predators, social networking, cross border fraud, and cyber bullying have been presented to the Woodbury Police Citizen's Police Academy in conjunction with the Woodbury Police Department. He has also presented to the Woodbury Business Association, Woodbury High School and churches.