By Patti Murphy
It is almost the end of June and Christopher Viau is already having an awesome summer. Earlier this month, the Evanston, IL resident released his second book of poetry. Entitled “Being in Harmony with Nature” and featuring his own illustrations, it is a sweet collection of his everyday observations. A watercolor artist, Chris has recently taken up chalk pastel sketching. He spends two days a week at The Arts of Life studio in Chicago’s North Shore area—one as its archivist and the other doing his own artwork.
The excellence that Chris, 38, has achieved as a writer and visual artist highlights the fact that though his speech is limited, his voice is strong. Like his creative endeavors, his longtime use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology gives him a deep appreciation for the freedom of self-expression. These days, Chris often turns to his Tobii Dynavox T10 when he has something to say. He says it was easy to transfer to the new device from the Tobii Dynavox V he used before. A speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago assisted with the transition.
Chris likes the portability and layout of language the T10 offers. He does a lot of his own programming. “It is a quick way to communicate,” he said.
Along with the language Chris needs to order a coffee or joke with a friend, his T10 has preprogrammed messages for long conversations on many topics, for his interests span many worlds. Chris nurtures his love of history through reading. He goes fishing and horseback riding. Sometimes he’ll hang out in downtown Evanston for the day, by the lake.
A serious athlete, Chris played on the U.S. Paralympic Adapted Boccia America’s Cup Team in 2014. His physical limitations (Chris has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair) seem to make Chris want to work harder for the team. A past Athlete of the Year for the Maine-Niles Association of Special Recreation, he is known as both a fierce competitor and all around nice guy. One of his coaches, Lauren Ruiz, admires his discipline and constant focus on improvement.
“The more you get to know him, the more inspiring he is,” she said. “He’s so much fun to be around.” One of her funniest memories is when they went to a Chicago Cubs game. Chris hated to admit his beloved baseball team had an off day. “He claims they lost because I was there and brought them bad luck,” Lauren said.
As a close friend, she usually understands Chris when he speaks in his natural voice if she knows the context. She is happy that he has the technology to help him clarify information and socialize with people he does not know well. It is a great help in connecting with all the fellow athletes he meets through boccia.
“Knowing that he’s able to communicate easily gives him a lot of confidence.”
Chris said it means a lot to be able to order for himself at a restaurant or ask questions of store employees while shopping. Sometimes it’s hard, he said, because people like him are often ignored. But Chris keeps his spirits up and makes time for others. Lauren said, for example, he is always asking about her husband and family.
Family means a lot to Chris. He takes the train to his parents’ home in Waukegan to celebrate every holiday and family birthday with them, his sister Liz, brother-in-law Chad and his two nieces—Ila, 18 months old and Ava, 4 months. He is godfather to both.
The train ride gives Chris quiet time to enjoy his surroundings. His love for the excitement of the city equals his fondness for nature. Both are captured in “Chicago’s Seasons,” his first book. Chris plans to write a third book using his Tobii DynaVox T10 while sitting outside.
Chris’ books are available for purchase online. He also keeps a blog where you can find more of his insightful writing.