On my recent trip, I was very grateful for my iPad and the newly acquired ability to communicate with anyone:
- While waiting at the Dallas airport for the delayed flight to Austin, I chatted with Steve who was also on his way to South by Southwest (SXSW).
- My first night at SXSW, I had supper with my friend Todd Jordan. It was one of those meals when more talking than eating took place.
- Wandering the SXSW Exhibit Hall, I had a nice chat with Patti Hosking from BlogWorld Expo.
- While waiting for the airline customer service rep to arrange an accessible hotel for my unscheduled stopover in Phoenix, I was able to tell her I was not deaf; there was no need to communicate via notes to me.
- Exploring the 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN) Exhibit Hall, I was able to ask questions about a particular device on behalf of a friend.
- After my CSUN presentation, I ordered celebratory iced mocha and then tweeted:
GlendaWH: Scored an iced mocha. Loving my ipad and proloquo2go! #csun11 17-March-2011
- At the Holiday Inn, I was able to arrange for the accessible shuttle to the airport.
- And the list continues…
When I had realized how much more I was able to interact with people not fluent in Glenda-ish, the questions struck during a quiet moment at CSUN. How had I travelled and attended conferences before my iPad? How much had I missed out on by not having a communication device? Who had I missed interacting with? What opportunities had I missed? How different might high school and university have been? Might I have been successful in finding a job after graduation?
Yes, previously, I used my alphabet card and typed many notes for communication. Those methods worked for brief encounters. But, they didn’t facilitate on-the-spot, in-depth conversations.
I then realized that CSUN is likely the first time I had seen others using various communication devices. I am nearly 45 years old, with a significant speech impairment, and this is the first time I have seen this is kind of device in action? How is that even possible? Something is definitely wrong here.
Prior to CSUN, my exposure to communication devices, to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) consisted of:
- In elementary school, Randy was several years older than me and had cerebral palsy perhaps a tiny bit more involved than mine. At one point he tried a large, clumsy “voice box” with a very limited vocabulary. He soon went back to his large alphabet board.
- In university, Carla was voiceless due to a car accident. She used some kind of small device with which she laboriously typed messages onto a small screen.
- More recently I have briefly met AJ Brown who is also voiceless and uses a Light Writer device. Sign language is her primary means of communication.
That was it!
Of course, there had been the occasional attempt by counsellors and therapists to get me to use such a device, but I was not interested. I was scared people would stop trying to understand me when I did talk. I didn’t want to be stopped from having my own voice from being heard. And, I wasn’t keen on lugging around yet something else that made me different.
One reason for my lack of interest in using such a thing was I hadn’t seen others communicating in that way. For a skill set that relies heavily on observing and learning how others around us communicate, I didn’t have anyone using a device to watch and learn from. Nobody on television or in the public eye communicated in that manner.
Where were my role models?
That was until I became aware of physicist professor Stephen Hawking who uses a text-to-speech synthesizer to give lectures. And, last year, when movie critic Roger Ebert, who loss his jaw, and subsequently, his ability to speak, to cancer, his interview on Oprah further opened my eyes and my mind to the possibility of using a communication device.
The launch of the iPad combined with the Proloquo2Go app came along at the right time for me. The iPad’s coolness factor also prompted me to give the device a try for communicating.
The key here is that the idea didn’t come from a teacher, counsellor or therapist, but rather from a desire within myself – a desire for a way to communicate with those beyond the limited number who understand and who are willing to try to understand Glenda-ish. That desire plus my initiative to identify, for myself, individuals who I could relate to in terms of communication needs – to identify role models – plus the launch of the cool iPad created an opportunity for me to embrace using a device for communication.
I am grateful for that opportunity and for the changes in my life it has made in such a relatively short time. I strongly believe that for young people with speech disabilities and for adults who lose their ability to speak to experience the full benefits of communication devices (suited to their individual needs), they need similar role models to guide them and teach them to communicate in this way.
For this to occur, successful individuals who use communication devices need to become more visible, in the public eye, on television, in advertising, in education – everywhere! I’d love challenge those who are in positions to make this happen to, indeed, make this happen. Let me know how I can be of service.If you enjoyed this post, consider buying me a cafe mocha. Thanks kindly.