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Hand in Hand With Technology

by Deborah Roseborough, Parent
reprinted with permission from California Deaf-Blind Services

Editor's Note: I would like to thank Maurice Belote and the staff of the California Deaf-Blind Services for their willingness to let us share with you a wonderful article that I came across in the Spring 1997 edition of their newsletter, reSources.

Twenty three years ago my son Danny was born with Rubella Syndrome. He is totally blind and profoundly deaf. Danny is a very loving and special person. But we soon found out his disabilities complicated his life greatly, especially in the area of communication. Technology, however, would prove to be a great friend to Danny and everyone in his world.

"Mom," "eat," and "no" are simple words we take for granted. Communication does not come automatically for our deaf-blind children. In different ways they have different levels of hearing losses, which affect their communication. Hearing aids came into our lives in his first year. They were ugly and intrusive looking, but a necessary part of Danny's quality of life. At first he had a hearing aid that consisted of a box that fit on his chest or hung on a pocket with cords leading to both ears. I had moments of denial about Danny's deafness and even moments of not wanting to deal with it. But not seeing him react to my voice or call out to me made these negative moments very brief.

At the age of two or three my son began to mimic words like "momma," "eat" and "no." His speech didn't advance much further for a long time. He found it easier to sign his needs and wants. Every three years he was eligible for new hearing aids. Each pair was an improved model. No more box on his body. He now wore hearing aids behind the ear. He went through periods of not wanting to wear the hearing aids as well as periods of taking them apart. We had many a search for little pieces of equipment. The hearing aid dealer recognized our baggie of parts as part of the deal when working with Danny.

At 14 years of age, Danny received yet another set of hearing aids. Technology had really improved. There was little or no feedback and his molds fit well. Maybe Danny had matured also. The pieces to the puzzle had finally come together. Danny would become inseparable from his hearing aids. He began to just stand still and listen for the sounds around him. We bought environmental tapes and played them over and over again and gave each sound a name. Danny can identify animals, cars, emergency vehicles, etc., he could now follow my voice and find me. This brought a big smile to both our faces. He learned to discriminate the sound of the telephone ring from the microwave beep. Our new problem is that he sleeps with his aids on so as not to miss anything.

Amplification has come a long way. We used to knock on his bedroom door and receive no response. Now he opens the door with a smile. He can handle simple verbal conversations. He can tell you who he is and asks you how you are. He expects most people not to respond, so he will answer that you are fine. He has over 300 words in his vocabulary.

Danny uses total communication, tactile signing and voice where possible. At work he has two backup systems for communication. A card communication system was developed for him while he was in school. The cards are based on categories. There are words in english and braille and pictures on the cards. If you want to communicate with him you can hand him a card, let him feel it in braille and he will respond. He can ask you questions also by presenting a card to you with a message to read.

Danny's other communication system is a voice box with fifteen squares called an "Attainment Talker." Each square has a braille number on it. Each number has an item or a need connected to it. Danny knows which number says what. He pushes the braille number and a prerecorded voice will speak for him. By having these different systems, Danny is more accessible to the world around him and it to him.

Technology is great and I'm always open to new ideas to make my son's life more complete. Technology can also make our children's world safer. Danny has a "Mowat Sensor" that tells him if he is nearing a change in surface, a wall or a person in front of him. He can distinguish between a bus or car that may be in front of him. One other piece of equipment that he uses is the silent pager. This item has three different vibrations that will tell him if there is an emergency. It will vibrate one way for a fire alarm, another way if his boss needs him to come to his office, or a third way for any drills they may be having at work.

Technology is invaluable. We as parents need to stay informed of what is new and helpful for our children. As long as we have the dream, new things can be developed to give higher quality to our children's lives.

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from Summer 1998 issue