I teach students with multiple disabilities. Some are more complex than others. Today I was working with a 6th grader I’ll call Jessie. He’s a cool kid who uses a wheelchair to move about the building. Jessie has a lot to say but has difficulty actually saying it. You see, even though he is very vocal, his actual voice doesn’t work the same as yours or mine.
Jessie uses a communication device to speak. He is able to activate buttons which chain words together to speak a message using a synthesized voice. Think of all the words you say in a day. Now think about having to use a battery operated box that has your entire vocabulary organized, in such a way, that you access it with anywhere from 1 to 5+ activations to say a single word. You use these activations to string words into phrases, sentences and questions. And this is your voice…your only voice.
Now imagine that you do all this using only your eyes. It’s called an eye gaze system.
This is Jessie. He amazes me every day. Have you ever tried to use an eye gaze device? I have. I couldn’t even type my name. It’s truly that difficult.
Today I needed to take him to another room to do a little testing. I don’t usually work with him outside of his homeroom so I had no idea he was practically the mayor of the school. As we left the room, kids in the hallway were calling his name and he was saying hello to several of them using his talker. He indicated he wanted me to slowdown so he could use his device to talk to a staff member who had greeted him. I loved watching him interact in a different setting than I usually see him.
When we started testing, he quickly navigated to his answer page on his AAC device. That’s assistive technology speak for augmentative and alternative communication device…Jessie’s voice coming from the battery operated box. He activated the buttons for A, B, C or D to give answers to the questions in front of him. He wasted no time whizzing through the test.
Then it was time to write. It was clear that his eyes were starting to fatigue. He was having difficulty focusing on his AAC device long enough to activate a button. He had worked for 30 minutes straight by this point. We integrated his low tech core vocabulary board to offer his eyes a rest. He worked with both systems to dictate his answers to me. He needed to write an essay question. I could not even tell you the topic because regardless of what he was supposed to write, his answer absolutely floored me.
It was insightful and raw. It was honest and complex in its simplicity.
I read it back to him so he could verify his work. He was confident in his writing and told me he was finished with that question. The next thing he wrote was no less reflective.
His words echoed in my mind all day.
As written, it has no negative or positive connotation. However, is that always the case? Nope. But it was clear from the smile on Jessie’s face that his definition of different is 100% positive. Not one bit of that sentence indicated anything other than pure happiness.
He is different and that is good. I agree.
I just hope that all others who get to experience the absolute joy that is Jessie can see past the voice in a box to see the happy and different and good and silly kid that I get to know.
I am writing for the 2019 March Slice of Life Challenge