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Happy Monday FunDay! Holly here! This week, I’m introducing you to Voice Banking and providing you with a document that will teach you how to be successful with Voice Banking. At the bottom of this page, I also threw in a few of our upcoming webinars. Enjoy!

Voice Banking Resource

Voice banking is a strategy in which you record and save portions of an individual’s speech. Often, these recordings are later used on communication devices. Voice banking is usually used by individuals who have progressive conditions such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). These individuals are at risk for their ability to communicate through speech deteriorating. Therefore, they choose to record themselves speaking.

The resource below provides some tips for recording with Communicator 5 or Compass software as well as ModelTalker, a web based recording tool to create a personal synthetic voice.

 Tobii Dynavox Voice Banking Resource

 

New Webinars!

All webinars are 12-1pm ET:

  • Wednesday March 23rd – myTobiiDynavox: Managing your Communication Content (.1 ASHA CEU) Register here.
  • Thursday April 7th – Using the Communication Tools in Core First: Register here.
  • Wednesday April 13th – Communicator 5 and Sono Flex (.1 ASHA CEU) Register here.
  • Thursday April 21st – Exploring PODD 15 Preschool & School Pagesets (.1 ASHA CEU) Register here.
  • Thursday May 12th – Compass & the NavBar Pageset. Register here.
  • Thursday May 26th – Personalizing with Digital Images in Compass & Communicator 5 (.1 ASHA CEU) Register here.

Happy Monday FunDay !

Hello, Holly here! I’m a member of the Tobii Dynavox Training Team and I’m excited to kick off a new series of bi-weekly posts that will feature helpful resources and links to upcoming or recorded trainings. Today, we have two Communicator 5 needs assessment resources to share along with a new recorded webinar!

 

Likes and Dislikes – The Emergent Communicator

A checklist can be helpful when searching for initial likes and dislikes for an individual with “emerging” communication skills. To use this list, interview familiar partners or conduct some trials with the items. After each section, we have provided some ideas of page sets that exist in the Emerging User.

 

Communicator 5 AAC Needs Assessment – The Symbol Communicator

This AAC needs assessment can be completed as part of an initial AAC evaluation or as part of on-going assessment after AAC strategies and tools have been implemented. Examples of page sets that already exist in Communicator 5 are noted.

This and many other supporting resources can be found on myTobiiDynavox.com!

 

New Recorded Webinars:           

  • (ASHA .1 CEU) Strategic Competency in AAC: Watch it here.

 

Until next time!

-Holly

It looks like 2016 may be one of Joanne Picard’s best years yet.

Jo with deviceA senior at Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Edmonton, Alberta, Joanne is so-o-o ready to experience a new sort of independence when she fulfills plans to enroll at a Canadian university as a political science major later this year. “I’m obsessed with democracy,” she says.

As Joanne (you can call her Jo) looks forward with optimism, she gives the sense that nothing can stop her from enjoying the present, moment by moment.

“So far, senior year has been pretty awesome,” she says. Jo’s vivaciousness and already independent spirit shine brightly despite the disabilities and health complications associated with Rett syndrome that are part of her life.  Though she is non-verbal, she is articulate and unafraid to express herself. Jo uses an eye-controlled Tobii Dynavox I-15+ with Sonoscribe language software to communicate.  She uses another Tobii Dynavox device, the PCEye Go, to control her laptop and tablet computers through the same eye-gaze techniques.

Signs of Rett syndrome surfaced in Jo as a toddler. Her muscle tone and mobility declined. The condition interrupted her speech development at two years old. Through this regression, others saw her as a smart and social child who wanted to explore, learn and talk about things. The hardest part was that she knew what it was like to talk, but couldn’t. Jo eventually developed a strong blink for “yes” and purposefully looked away when she meant “no”—unaided communication techniques that continue to serve her well today. Her earliest augmentative and alternative communication system consisted of precisely labeled digital photographs of her toys, musical instruments, and all the things she could possibly need or want each day—down her favorite lip gloss. Making constant eye contact with the images, Jo held detailed conversations with the people around her. Her mom, Simone Chalifoux, said there were literally thousands of photos in the collection. “We didn’t want to restrain her ability to communicate to what we thought she should say.”

During elementary school, Jo used a variety of AAC products including a device with spoken language recorded by her peers. At the time, she could pivot her wrists and with support, isolate her index finger, so she selected vocabulary by direct touch. As purposeful hand movement gradually became more challenging for her, Jo tried a device she could access with her eyes. They decided to wait for the technology to advance and have no regrets. Jo got the PCEye Go in the fall of 2014 and the I-15+ a year later. She took quickly to the devices.  Simone and her husband Pierre, both schoolteachers, appreciate that they can more fully enjoy Jo’s company because they don’t have to put as much effort into their conversations as before.

Did we mention that Jo is fluent in English and French? Her family speaks both languages at home. Jo switches between the English and French users on her I-15+ at home and everywhere she goes.

When Jo needs to stay home for extended periods of time for medical reasons, she attends her classes via Skype or Facetime, and her school aide assists her at home. Yet Jo gets out and about quite a bit. Jo is especially pleased that technology lets her be a voice for others.  She is a member of the City of Edmonton Youth Council and its social equity subcommittee, as well as a founding member of the Diversity Club at her school. Together, the roles provide plenty of opportunities to advocate for equality and fairness for minority students, and to help raise awareness of sexual orientations and gender identity policies.

Jo herself is a renaissance student of sorts, thriving academically while pursuing social causes close to her heart. Meanwhile, she loves the cosmetology classes at school that bring out another facet of her creativity. Working around limitations in using her hands, she gives step-by-step instructions for beauty-related procedures through her Tobii Dynavox device to show what she knows.

One of Jo’s favorite helpers and companions is Pépite, a trained seizure-alert dog whose French name means “chip”—as in chocolate chip. Like the confection, the tiny Havanese is easy to love. “She is pretty freaking awesome,” Jo said. Pépite can sense when Jo is unwell, keep her comfortable and alert the people around her.

Jo, no doubt, likes to keep others happy while having fun. Simone says she is a wonderful big sister to Olivia, 10, who loves when they play cards, board games, or even Xbox together. At Olivia’s request, Jo went to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” with their whole family at the holidays.

For movie dates with her high school friends, Jo is more likely to choose a chick flick like “Sisters” and maybe sneak in a side trip for shopping or coffee. An avid wrestling and Olympic bobsledding fan, Jo may take to the slopes in her sit ski while winter is here.

Spring and summer are bound to bring pre- and post-graduation celebrations. Jo shared some thoughts on what comes next.

“I can’t wait to exercise the whole university experience,” she said, “from frat parties, to meeting new people from all over the world, to arguing with my professors, to challenging myself in every way to learn and become a better person.”

If Jo looks familiar, you may recognize her from this video we shared before.

Bo&parents&deviceLike most parents, Ryan and Dr. Kim Spangler of Doylestown, PA felt their hearts soar whenever their son Boden said “Mama” and “Dada” as a toddler. They couldn’t wait to hear more from their only child. Social by nature, Bo made great eye contact. He smiled and laughed a lot. In the midst of the excitement of speaking his first real words, he paid attention to the people listening. Bo wanted to be vocal, Kim said. So the Spanglers were deeply concerned and wondered how to help Bo when, a short time later, he reverted to baby talk, apparently no longer able to express language as he would have liked to.

Bo, now 3, has MECP2 duplication syndrome, a rare genetic condition that is the “brother syndrome” to Rett syndrome. It causes learning, memory and motor control deficits. Seizures and recurrent, potentially fatal respiratory infections are also common.

Motor planning issues thwarted Bo’s early attempts to speak in his own voice. Words came out rarely, and inconsistently, but usually in appropriate contexts. His parents focused on his strengths. “He could ambulate so we would say, ‘Bo, can you go do this?’ He could discriminate and follow directions,” his mom said.

Now Bo is rediscovering the power of his voice with the help of the Tobii Dynavox I-12 speech-generating device he got last year and controls through his eyes. “The strides he’s made in just the last five months are incredible,” his dad said. “He’s more open to the process of communication.” Bo’s parents love chronicling his device use on video and didn’t mind at all when he said “My family is crazy!” for the camera.

We’re excited to tell you more about Bo’s communication successes here. First let’s share a little more background:

Bo arrived in the world six weeks before his due date and after a pregnancy with complications Kim believes may have been related to developmental delays her son experienced. “We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know exactly what it was,” she said of months spent seeking opinions from a number of specialists until a developmental pediatrician confirmed the MECP2 diagnosis. MECP2 happens because the X chromosome has double the normal amount of the MECP2 gene. The condition is relatively new. Discovered in 2005, MECP2 occurs in 1 in 10,000 births and affects mostly boys. Rett syndrome, more common in girls, is associated with a mutation of the MECP2 gene.

The news was jarring. “Our lives fundamentally changed,” Kim said.

Friends since middle school, Kim and Ryan were married with solid careers in Washington D.C. by their mid-20s. Kim studied drug design in graduate school at Georgetown University and went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. Ryan worked on Capitol Hill before becoming a federal lobbyist. She was 29 and he was 30 when Bo came along. They’ve since moved back to Pennsylvania to be around family including Kim’s mom, a special education teacher. Inspired by personal experience, Ryan is on a brand new professional path, working as an educational assistant in a middle school autistic support classroom while pursuing a special education degree.   Kim is a technical team lead for the U.S. Department of Defense. Since Bo’s diagnosis, they have taken on new roles in terms of fundraising for a potential cure and both serve on the board of the 401 Project: Cure MECP2 Duplication Syndrome. They are hosting Cure MECP2 Bucks County in Doylestown, PA on September 22, 2016.

As Bo’s parents, the Spanglers find that acceptance, action and love prevail. Ryan vows to live a day at a time, without worrying about things beyond their control. Kim pushes to find the resources Bo needs to lead his best life.

Bo-device-two“While they do understand that he has limitations, they don’t limit him,” said Shirley Shapiro, a home health care nurse with Bo three days a week. She keeps him safe, administers liquids through his G-tube, and assists him with aspiration and balance issues. Mrs. Shapiro said Bo is just starting to play with the other kids at the preschool he attends, noting that his I-12 device had a part in helping him reach that milestone. “When they see that he’s able to communicate more grown-up thoughts, they understand that he’s like them.”

More people realize Bo is smart as the technology bridges his receptive and expressive language skills.

“He did well with it from the beginning,” said Caitlin Brown, M.S., CFY-SLP, an assistive technology consultant with the intermediate unit and speech-language pathologist. “The amount of vocabulary and the types of messages (he uses) have really increased. We’ve been able to unlock what he knows.” She recommended the I-12 for Bo.

Her colleague Amy Robinson, M.A., CCC-SLP, met Bo in December 2015 and has two speech therapy sessions with him each week. “Bo’s always surprising me. I see progress every time I see him,” Mrs. Robinson said. Whether they read books, race toy cars, build things, or bring out a board game, Bo chatters about the play activities, readily sharing his likes and especially his dislikes. She enjoys watching his skill and spontaneity unfold as he learns to more fully express feelings and respond to “WH” questions.

“He’s so happy he’s communicating. You can see it on his face.””

This past summer, Bo and his parents demonstrated the I-12 at the Bluebird Circle Rett Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston during MECP2 Duplication Syndrome Family Conference.  In the spirit of paying it forward, they also gave families a little hands-on time with the technology. Parents were shocked—in a good way, Ryan said, by what their own kids were able to do within 5 minutes. The experience affirmed Kim’s confidence in the technology. “I think kids younger than Bo will be able to do this and be very, very empowered,” she said.

Photography by Stephanie Franko Ferraro

VIEW THE PDF Tobii_icon_pdf

Andy Johnson likes—more accurately, loves—to talk about the weather. Technically, he gets about 1,000 chances to do so each day from his Waukee, IA home, by the estimated number of international hits his non-profit weather information website, wxscience.com, receives. Andy, 72, is a retired meteorologist and oceanographer. He nurtured his career while serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve as an air crew instructor and flight examiner. Through the website, he reaches and consults with middle and secondary school teachers and their students with the aim of expanding coverage on weather-related concepts in science classes.

On a personal level, Andy is reaching many more folks by example. He feels blessed to be able to continue doing the work he loves and keeps a cheerful attitude while making his way through a different kind of storm—living with Parkinson’s disease, a condition of the nervous system that affects movement, coordination and, in many cases, speech.

Andy and his wife, Pat, live gratefully. He credits her for her understanding, patience and encouragement. She admires him for keeping active, noting that he walks often with the aid of a walker because he wants to stay strong.

Though the disease makes it harder for Andy to speak clearly, the difficulty is subsiding, thanks to his recent acquisition of a Tobii Dynavox T10.

“You can say anything,” Andy said when asked why he likes the tablet augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. “It is user-friendly with great menus.”

Andy got the Tobii Dynavox T10 on the recommendation of Jennifer Bodensteiner, a home health care speech-language pathologist. She knew right away what the main attraction of the technology, and its Compass communication software, would be for her patient.

“How easy it is,” Bodensteiner said. The device is freeing, Andy says. Its text-based user and Word Power page set give him quick access to preset adult vocabulary for conversation topics including the weather and so much more. Messages can be customized, as desired, and conveniently stored for future conversations. “Poor speech is no longer a handicap because my T10 helps me be understood by family and others,” he said. “It has helped me get my ideas across fast, and to adjust and adapt to situations.”

Every time someone better understands what he is saying, Andy considers it a personal victory. He has been using the T10 for just a few months and feels secure in his new voice. Andy describes himself as “determined, witty and scientific” and looks forward to spending time with new and familiar communication partners including his three children, seven grandchildren, fellow fans of the Florida State University Seminoles sports teams and aspiring weather enthusiasts he crosses paths with.

For Andy, a good chat is a great joy. His best conversation partner is his wife. He reads and listens to the poetry she writes. She loves when he tells of his experiences in ocean wave modeling (a form of climate pattern simulation) and hurricane hunting.  They watch movies with a weather theme (many in surround sound) together. “Twister”—the 1996 blockbuster—is an all-time favorite. The Johnsons also enjoy New Orleans-related films, having lived in Louisiana for many years. They have mixed emotions that their 2005 move to Iowa occurred a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit.

The constant presence and unpredictability of the elements drives Andy’s desire to raise weather awareness through the schools. As he states in the homepage message on his website:

“Most students at this level spend more time dissecting frogs and insects than they do cold fronts and thunderstorms.  The reality is that, in spite of the fact weather affects everyone and thousands perish each year from its hazards, not many know very much about how weather and climate work.”

Andy is expecting a call any day from Blake Hammond, a sixth grade science teacher at Albert W. Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. The two met about five years ago when a neighbor, Mr. Hammond’s student at the time, suggested that Andy share his expertise when it came time for the class to study the weather unit that spring. Andy immediately said “yes” and Mr. Hammond found a phenomenal volunteer. They planned lessons together—Andy providing background on key concepts, Mr. Hammond preparing lessons in a multimedia format. Students learned to use a cloud identification wheel and weather instruments including a psychrometer (a combined wet-bulb and dry-bulb thermometer used to measure relative humidity) Andy made for them, a thermometer and a barometer. Andy has attended the class three or four days a week. He wholeheartedly awaits the standing engagement each May and the class works around his visits, which are less frequent now. Students email questions to Andy. Printouts of his thorough replies drape an area of the classroom known as “Andy’s Corner”—a name that belies Andy’s style of working the room, addressing various discussion points with small groups of students as he moves about. They understand Andy’s challenges, Mr. Hammond said, and see that his abilities outshine his limitations every time.

 By Patti Murphy

Like most 16-year-olds, Kreed is an independent thinker. He enjoys having choices, and the freedom to express his likes and dislikes, whether the subject is food, entertainment, or how he wants to spend the weekend. Until recently, however, he could not communicate those things easily. Primarily non-verbal because of his autism, Kreed has a history of challenging behaviors, including self-injury, grounded in his inability to speak. Behavior and communication were practically equivalent for Kreed while growing up. He often used aggression—making loud utterances, kicking, spitting, or refusing to move—to express thoughts and feelings.

The situation is improving dramatically now that Kreed uses the Tobii Dynavox T10. As the tablet augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system makes it easier for him to communicate, Kreed’s distinctive voice is taking shape. His language abilities are beginning to flourish as he learns that communication is about talking and listening. He is growing as a person.

Stephen Murray is a Professional BMX Rider. In June 2007, when Stephen was 27, he broke his neck while attempting his signature double backflip and sustained from a severe spinal cord injury (SCI). Stephen was left completely paralyzed from the neck down. He says, “BMX was a massive way of me expressing myself. After the accident, the BMX was done. So, my freedom of expression and communication was almost wiped out.” Almost.

Stephen was soon introduced to the Tobii PCEye Go, an eye tracker that works with standard laptops and desktop PCs. Because of the hands-free computer access the Tobii PCEye Go provides, Stephen is able to surf the web, Skype, and stay in touch with family, friends, and fans on social media with only eye movements. It has helped Stephen to regain some of his lost independence, freedom of expression, and communication.

The Tobii PCEye Go has also helped Stephan start and run two businesses, Stay Strong and the Athlete Recovery Fund (ARF). Stay Strong is Stephen’s apparel line that encourages others faced with similar challenges to his own to not give up on themselves. ARF is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds to support the medical costs of other extreme athletes injured on the job.

 

By Patti Murphy

Kylie Bryant (“Kye” to her friends) would probably shout from a mountaintop how she loves her new voice. Just a year ago, she had no idea she would feel that kind of enthusiasm for an augmentative and alternative communication device she worked simply by moving her eyes. The 19-year-old from Bolingbrook, IL had been using AAC technology since kindergarten and felt totally comfortable with the device access method she used all along—pressing one switch on her wheelchair headrest to scan and choose her words, then a second switch to speak them.

With her whatever-it-takes spirit, Kylie did well in school. Today she is a kind and assertive young woman who knows herself well. The future looks bright.

After graduating from Bolingbrook High School with the Class of 2013, Kylie entered Valley View School District 365U’s Secondary Transition Experience Program and will complete it soon. She is eagerly awaiting the culinary classes she begins at Joliet Junior College this fall.

Coinciding with this important time in Kylie’s life is her acquisition of the Tobii Dynavox I-15 that is her primary means of communication and is proving to be a real game changer for her. Though cerebral palsy compromises Kylie’s ability to speak and do physical tasks, she is sure of what she needs and wants, and able to express it articulately. She does so a lot faster and more fully with the new device. Yet for Kylie, communication goes way beyond talking. It is something more vital—and more empowering.

The possibility of an eye-gaze AAC system came up when Kylie needed a device with Bluetooth and wireless capabilities compatible with the electronic controls on her new wheelchair. But when it came to exploring a new communication access method, Yvette Baker-Bryant recalled that her daughter wouldn’t budge.

“Kylie fought us tooth and nail,” she said.  “She had been a two-step scanner all of her life and was real resistant to change.”

Then she had a two-week trial period with a Tobii Dynavox I-15. Within two days, Kylie knew she wanted one of her own. “She did not want to change and now I think it’s the best decision she ever made,” her mom said. “She does absolutely nothing without it.”

Most days, Kylie is at school from 7:20 AM to 12:30 PM taking vocational and life skills classes. The highlight is her job with the Dinner’s Ready food service. Kylie performs research and quality control duties, finding recipes and giving directions through her I-15 to peers who prepare and package dinners for the faculty and staff from 20 district schools who buy the take-home meals. The menu centers on a monthly theme such as healthy eating, Mexican or casseroles. Kylie said the best parts of the job are shopping at the grocery store and cooking. She is becoming a pro in the kitchen, where she operates a mixer and a chopper by touching a pad strapped to her leg. The appliances stop when she removes her hand from the pad.

After school, Mom meets Kylie at the bus and makes sure she is comfortable at home before going back to her job at a nearby insurance company. Cameras at the house allow Yvette to keep an eye on her daughter while at work. The environmental control capabilities of the I-15 similarly bring peace of mind. Kylie can be home alone for hours because she can make phone calls, work the lights, watch the Food Network and football games and play the music she likes without having to ask for help. It is easy for her to text, access social media and shop on the internet using the device.

Another reason—actually, two reasons—Kylie feels safe and sound are her protective dogs Mylie and Macie. Mylie is a Morkie (part Maltese, part Yorkshire terrier) and likes jumping onto Kylie’s lap. Macie is all Yorkie.

The youngest of four siblings, Kylie loves when her older brother and sisters come to visit with their children.  She also loves being out and about, with her I-15 beside her at favorite restaurants and just about wherever she goes.

One of Kylie’s long-term goals is to run her own assistive technology company. She has the perfect skill set for it, said Marissa Trueblood-Seifert, a STEP special education teacher and case manager. Kylie’s technical savvy is strong. So is her patience in dealing with different personalities and problem-solving. She’s been the go-to person at school when other students need a supportive troubleshooter or a mentor in their own experiences with AAC technology.

“She’s waiting for us to catch up.” Mrs. Trueblood-Seifert. “We just want to keep her around.”

Kylie, meanwhile, offers these words of wisdom on bringing an AAC device into your life.  “Choose the right one, the one that’s best for you.”

Use it all the time, she said. “Don’t get frustrated. Relax.”

By Patti Murphy

Doug Schneebeck is feeling the power of summer. That emotion, no doubt, will peak at the 2015 Oso High Mountain Bike Race June 7 in the picturesque Rocky Mountain village of Angel Fire, NM. The first U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team member with ALS, Doug, 54, hosts the event for a bigger reason: to raise ALS awareness. More concretely, the race is a fundraiser ALS for research efforts, and services for the estimated 30,000 people in the United States living with the fatal disease, and their families.

On average, 15 people are newly diagnosed with ALS (short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) each day.
With his own diagnosis in July 2010, Doug joined them. Within the next year, he found what he hopes will become a lasting way to lighten the grimness of a situation he shares with so many others. After retiring from a career as a civil litigation attorney, Doug started Oso High Endurance Sports, an organization that has raised more than $300,000 for the ALS community through cycling and running events. From the get-go, he had much more than dollars and cents in mind.

“I had decided to create something enduring that would contribute to the public understanding of ALS, raise some money, and be a present for our family,” Doug told us in a message composed through the Tobii Dynavox I-15 device he uses for communication. “I began brainstorming on a Saturday morning, and had a working website by Sunday evening.” The illness has taken Doug’s ability to do many things that most of us take for granted, like speaking, but his desire to help others is unstoppable.

Through the Oso High website, athletes of all abilities can publish information about themselves, their sport (not limited to cycling or running) and reach out to others to sponsor their participation in an event. Individuals can make donations to the ALS Association through the site. Doug’s wry wit is evident in The ALS Blogs section where he chronicles his adventures and challenges. When we asked him about the origin of the Oso High name, he wrote in his fun-loving way, “‘Oso High’ is a multilingual play on words. ‘Oso’ is Spanish for place, oh, so high, at about 10,000 feet, and the mascot for the race is a bear.”

Since he cannot ride his recumbent tandem trike off-road, Doug plans to ride 22 miles on the road with his wife Jean Bannon at the Angel Fire event. With an estimated 125 participants, they expect to raise about $37,000, he said.

Oso High is Doug’s passion and the I-15 helps him not just with typing, maintaining the website and other technical aspects of carrying the project forward, but keeping in touch with everyone involved. It takes a bit longer to tell a joke using the device instead of his natural voice, but he still keeps everyone laughing.  Doug is grateful to friends and acquaintances in the cycling community for their support. His biggest cheerleaders are his wife and their children—Jessa, 35; James, 20 and Abby, 18.

Doug and Jean talked frankly about life with ALS in an “Eye on New Mexico”  segment last fall. Their appearance on the local news show coincided with their participation in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Doug communicated using a Tobii Dynavox EyeMax then and was about to make the change to the newer I-15. The transition, he said, was seamless. He is especially pleased with the I-15’s processing speed, mouse simulation and reliability.

“The ability to be heard in social situations is outstanding,” Doug said. Before the eye-gaze systems, he used voice-recognition software and typed on a keyboard when he could still use his hands. ”The ability to communicate is so important. I can’t imagine the isolation without the device.”

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.