Technology aids freedom of speech
Steve Kennedy, 30, of Belchertown, who has cerebral palsy, now has an electronic device called a Dynavox that helps him communicate, thanks to Riverside Industries in Easthampton and several grants. Kennedy is sitting at his work station at Riverside, where he packages game pieces.
By MEG A. FARRELL, Staff Writer
Saturday, August 4, 2001 — EASTHAMPTON – A fast and easy conversation with a friend or co-worker may seem like no big deal, but to Steve Kennedy, it’s the chance of a lifetime.
Kennedy, 30, of Belchertown has spastic cerebral palsy, which has made it hard for him to convey his thoughts to those who don’t know him well and can’t understand his speech.
But for the last six months, thanks to Riverside Industries at One Cottage Street and several grants, Kennedy is interacting with peers using a Dynavox communication device, said Char Gentes, a spokeswoman for Riverside.
“Now I can talk easier to my friends,” Kennedy said in an interview, speaking in computer-generated masculine voice through the Dynavox.
The device, the size of a thick laptop computer, allows Kennedy to type in what he wants to say, then press a button so the Dynavox speaks for him, said Kyle Schaller, manager of employee services at Riverside, which owns the device.
“It can be programmed to suit Steve’s needs and can be as complex or simple as we need it to be,” Schaller said. “We did a lot of research on these types of devices and this one worked best for us and Steve.”
|Steve Kennedy on the job|
The Dynavox contains many different voices to choose from, said Schaller, including both male and female, and there is also an option to record a voice for use.
“It still sounds a bit computerized, but it’s such a wonderful tool because Steve can pick what he wants to sound like,” she said.
The cost of the device ranges from $5,000 to $7,000 and has been funded by the J. Walton Bissell Foundation, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Agnes M. Lindsay Trust, George A. Ramlose Foundation, and Special People in Need, all of which have bought similar devices in Riverside’s Communication Equipment for People with Disabilities project, Gentes said.
While Riverside owns the Dynavox, Kennedy uses it when he is there for work. He does not take it home.
In the past, Kennedy, who works for Milton Bradley at its Riverside shop five days a week, used a plastic board and pointed to letters, hoping that his listeners could read and write in order to follow him, Schaller said.
“The great thing now is that his co-workers, some of whom also have disabilities and can’t read, now can make contact with Steve and they can have a conversation,” she said.
Using the Dynavox, Kennedy agreed that communication is much better for him now, compared to the old method of pointing to letters on a board.
“The old one doesn’t talk, this has a voice attached,” Kennedy said. “That is easier.”
Gentes said the device is more expansive and gives Kennedy a lot more dignity.
“This is huge for Steve and the others who use devices like this one here,” she said. “They can say a complete sentence, choose a voice for the device to use and not rely on staff, which creates a whole new level of independence.”
Gentes said the device also will help Kennedy by defying a stereotype of disabled people.
“It’s impressive, because now you can see his intelligence in a language form, and you know how smart he is,” she said. “I think this will force people to get past what they think about disabilities and see Steve for who he is.”
“Easy to talk,” is Steve Kennedy’s response as to how the Dynavox compares to the old way he communicated, pointing to letters and words on a board.
Though Kennedy can’t take the Dynavox home, he is taking full advantage of it at Riverside, as he is the only one using it now, Schaller said.
As with any computer, Kennedy said he is still working out the kinks and it can be slow at times, but he is thrilled to use this new technology.
With the chance now to tell the world whatever he wants, Kennedy chose this:
“The Yankees will win the World Series this year!”