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A future through technology.

Assistive technology, augmentative and alternative communication, voice output communication aids, environmental controls, power mobility -- none of this was available when our daughter Nancy was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy in 1969 at 15 months.

Seeing that Nancy's future was in our hands, my husband Jack and I, with five other families from our area, rounded the Developmental Center for Handicapped Children (DCHC) in Dayton, Ohio, in 1971. These other families became close friends over the years as we watched our children struggle through innovative programs designed to help them reach their potential.

Our family needed to provide 30 volunteers per week for Nancy's program at the Center. Nancy was the fifth of our seven children. Our twin daughters were just a year old at the time and we knew we couldn't do it alone. The Lord showed us that we needed help and He sent it to us in the form of neighbors, friends and family. It's great what people will do if you're willing to accept their help and support. The families at DCHC did it all -- sewed curtains, cleaned, trained volunteers, etc.

Nancy went to play school half days when she was five. A volunteer went along to assist her in the daily activities. She was bright and interested in learning. At age seven, Nancy went to kindergarten in the public school for children with disabilities.

The school speech therapist asked me what I was going to do about my daughter's lack of communication skills; this scared me to death. l had four older children and the twins besides Nancy. The therapist told us about Blissymbolics, an alternative communication system being used in Canada with children who couldn't talk. That summer, Nancy and I went to Toronto for a speech evaluation.

l served two years as vice president of consumer advocacy at ISAAC (International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication). This organization encompasses multidisciplinary fields of augmentative communication. It was through ISAAC that I was able to network with visionaries who were developing technology in communication and assistive mobility. I can recall attending an international conference abroad in 1984 and seeing power wheelchairs for babies in storefront windows in Sweden. That kept my dream alive!

Another member of DCHC, Terry Trzaska, has a son, Michael, who is developmentally disabled and nonverbal. We both wanted voice output systems for our children. Since this technology was not available locally, we organized the Communication Assistance Resource Service (CARS) in 1984. Through CARS we were able to expose the children and adults who couldn't talk, their families and the professionals who work with them, to the technology that was available to assist them.

CARS became the Technology Resource Center (TRC) in 1990 with a widened focus encompassing access to computers as well as augmentative and alternative communication for people of all ages and disabilities. For the past eight years, we have donated equipment available for preview and loan to families. This helps the families make wise decisions and avoid costly mistakes. We offer parents and professionals toys that can be operated by using a switch, voice output devices, computer software and specialized screen reading programs.

Each fall at TRC we do a public awareness campaign to show the community the work being done by the schools and agencies using assistive technology. We are slowly gaining corporate support and community recognition. If there is something l can do well by now, it is networking. Networking brings all the players together.

I am very pleased that we have survived as formal organizations, (ISAAC, AAC, TRC) and as a family. I've enjoyed seeing the people I've met grow, be empowered to help themselves and know they can do what they want. I believe in people-first advocacy. All of us, differently abled, must be taught to communicate and contribute our talent and skill.

Our daughter, Nancy, is now 24 and in training for a computer-related job. Without the assistive technology, augmentative and alternative communication, and voice output communication aids developed over the past 20 years, working in the community would not be possible for Nancy. If we knew then what we know now, we may not have chosen the path we are now on. Looking back, I realize this is the only path that would have satisfied us.
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Title Annotation:Hall of Fame
Author:Cashdollar, Pat
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:The new shoes: learning to deal with reactions to a child with disabilities is a never-ending process.
Next Article:"Mini" communication boards.

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