Communication has always been a priority for me. So it isn't surprising that I have made it a major part of my adulthood to serve others with communication disabilities. When I was a young child, I was sitting at home with my parents, and I noticed that the first snowfall of the season starting. Just like any other kid, I was excited and wanted to tell my parents, but I had no means of saying, "Look, look, it's snowing outside!" I decided if I could point to the refrigerator and then to the outside window, I might get that point across. As you can imagine, I drove my parents crazy trying to figure out what I wanted to say until they looked outside themselves and saw that it was snowing. You can imagine how proud they were to realize that I knew how to communicate. The technology I now use to communicate has given me the freedom to live and work independently, and I get great reward from helping others with their communication.
I received my Touch Talker, an assistive device that voices the words I point to, in December of my second grade year. I recall that as one of the happiest days of my childhood because I was given a voice I could independently use without assistance, no longer needing someone to read my communication board. Back then, there were no preprogrammed vocabulary packages like there are today. We had to program our own, which required input from my parents, teachers, and therapists to figure out what is needed to be programmed. It took a couple of years before my vocabulary was totally built up in my Touch Talker. During this time, my parents expected me to take and use my Touch Talker everywhere I went and needed a voice. My parents began to notice a big improvement in communicating with me. I could now form more friendships at school because I had a way to communicate with other kids; we often talked on the phone and made plans, which was something my parents encouraged.
I was introduced to my first power chair, a three-wheel scooter type, the same month as my Touch Talker. In retrospect, my parents and therapists would have probably done it differently, as that was quite a bit to of new technology to learn at once and required a lot of time and support from them. Both my power chair and my communication device are the center core to my independence, but I feel that the education and rehabilitation that went along with the communication device and power chair were key to mastering them. Communication devices and power chairs are like lumber, and when lumber is delivered, it doesn't mean your house instantly gets built. The lumber is just the material you need to build with.
My desire to communicate came internally. Before getting my Touch Talker I always had to depend on somebody to read my communication board, and, frankly, if nobody had shown interest in reading my board, my desire to communicate would have disappeared. I have seen cases where this has happened, where the device only gets used at school and therapy, but when it gets home it's placed on the shelf and isn't used. Due to this, the children suffer in both their education and independence, and their ability to carry on a conversation isn't fully developed. As my communication skills grew, so did my friendships at school. By 7th grade I was fully included in all my classes. This was when I began seriously considering working with a company that makes augmentative communication devices. I wanted to work where I could help people communicate and achieve what I have. I kept focused on that goal through high school and college. I started at the University of North Dakota, but realized, after a few semesters, that college wasn't right for me at that time.
While I was at DO-IT I came up with a list of ways that the Prentke Romich Company could improve the augmentative and alternative communication devices they make. So I wrote them down and sent them to Barry Romich, the head of the company. This ultimately led to me working for the Prentke Romich Corporation. I'm currently a remote troubleshooter in the Technical Service Department during nighttime and weekend hours. I'm able to do this from my own house with the use of my telephone, computer, and the Internet. I serve all fifty states and Canada. I have worked with parents who needed technical support or the answer to a quick question, who often intentionally wait until my shift so they can talk to me; this makes me feel good about the quality of support I offer. In my job I also give presentations, demonstrations, and trainings in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. I do some product testing as well, starting about six months before the release of a new product. I like that I can show parents of young children how to have a positive outlook on their child's future with the help of his or her augmentative communication tools. That's the great reward of this job.
Another big accomplishment is that I live alone. I have help come in for just one hour a day. I go to the gym and lift weights where I use a machine called NuStep and have learned to balance myself for transfers so no one has to help me anymore. I'm thinking about college again, since I now understand how much I can accomplish if I put my mind to it. I would love to become a rehabilitation engineer and open up more doors for people in the long run.