Monday, July 23, 2012

Denise the Jokester

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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  1. Denise & I read this & had a weepy girl moment!! Great blog article!

  2. I am a cousin of Denise. I am so happy to see this article about her. Even though I don't see Denise as often as I would like, when I do we have no trouble communicating. I'm so glad she is living at WFC. it is an awesome facility that truly helps the residents reach their full potential.