Denise’s celebrity long preceded my meeting her during my observations of speech therapy in Green Therapy Pavilion, our comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility (CORF). I’d been directed to a video of alocal news story about her and her new communication device, so I knew it scanned her eyes to control the mouse on the computer screen. I also knew Denise volunteered in Owensboro reading to pre-school and elementary school children.
Karissa Riter, Denise’s speech therapist, introduces me, asking
if it was okay I observe and learn more about her and her communication
device. Denise gives me the
eyes/eyebrows up response to say “yes.” At
first, I wasn’t sure how to manage my interactions with Denise. Despite her disability, her personality radiates
larger than life for someone who can’t move or talk! I admittedly felt a little bashful with her. Once Karissa explained Denise’s
method of eye communication when not using the communication device, I could
better connect with her; though it took some time for me to trust I was reading
her eye gestures correctly. In her
therapy sessions, she primarily used her device.
Karissa graciously explained everything about the device to
me in language I could follow; remember I’m a deer in headlights when it comes to technology.
Attached below the communication device (which sits on a stand) is an
eye-scanner. Upon powering the device, the
eye-scan registers Denise’s eyes so they are within what I call the “scan
zone.” If the scan zone is off-kilter
with Denise’s eyes, she’s unable to maneuver the mouse as easily so occasional
adjustments are required to realign the “scan zone.” Karissa then explains Denise moves the mouse
via her eye movement around a menu panel to the option she wishes to select;
upon landing on her target she holds her eyes steady, thus holding the mouse in
place for approximately five seconds. The
menu is considered selected, and presents a new panel of options related to the
topic selection. For example, an About Me option on the main menu panel offers
a new panel of choices with the following options: home address; family; favorite foods, and;
things I enjoy. Denise once again selects
with her eyes via the mouse her next option which offers additional choices of information
to choose to communicate. If she selects
Family, a new menu panel appears with
photos of family members: mom; dad;
sister; brother-in-law; nephew #1; nephew #2.
If she wanted to tell you about her mom, she’d focus her eyes on the
picture of mom, and once selected, the device would say, “My mother is Jane
Doe. She lives in Sweetwater, Texas.” The
layering of menus is mind-boggling; they operate similarly to computer file folders
which have sub-folders which we create to manage documents.
I learn during my observation Denise has an uncanny sense of
humor and loves to tell jokes. A punster
myself, she and I started trading corny jokes.
Humor, thus laughter, truly is the best medicine. I also learn she’s quite a prankster having
pulled a few on our CORF business manager, Kay.
During one session, Kay and Denise got to picking at each other so much
that Denise couldn’t catch her breath for laughing so hard.
My understanding continues to broaden as I learn speech sometimes
means teaching the basics of communication, such as the letters of the alphabet
and their sounds, numbers, words, concepts of time, etc. Many of those we serve on Campus never
received an education for a variety of reasons, and now have the chance to become
empowered with a voice through communication devices of all kinds; however,
they must learn some basics of the English language that you and I learned in
first and second grades. Remember
Helen Keller? She was blind, deaf and
mute yet someone recognized she wasn’t dumb; that she could contribute, she had
a voice which had a lot to say, and provided her with the opportunity to learn,
to break free of the silence that imprisoned her simply because so many didn’t
believe in her.
Our speech therapists find creative ways to empower our on-
and off-Campus patients with their voice.
In my observation with Kenny, I’ll come to realize how the lack of
education can add to the height of obstacles in finding their voice; yet these obstacles
are not insurmountable.
In the Next Blog
Entry: A Ladies Man with a Remote - “. . . . . independent in his power
wheelchair, Kenny gets around . . . at a notoriously “break-neck speed” . . . .
. and as a result, run into things!”
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