Last Friday, a group of about 20 children and their families gathered in Pittsburgh for an event that would have life-changing consequences.
For several years, our law firm has been involved with Variety's "My Bike" program, which provides adaptive bicycles for children with disabilities. Friday's event kicked off Variety's newest program, "My Voice," another wonderful initiative that helps children with extra needs live the fullest life possible.
The ability to communicate – to simply say "I'm hungry" or "I don't feel well" – is something most people take for granted. For the children and families at Variety's event, however, this couldn't be further from the truth. All of the kids in attendance had conditions that make standard ways of communicating difficult or impossible.
Handing out iPads
Variety is doing everything they can to change that. Through the "My Voice" program, they give specially-equipped communication devices (like an iPad) to families in need. These devices come with apps that are tailored to each child's abilities and what they've been using with their speech pathologist. For children who are nonverbal, the apps can help them master anything from simple words to complex speech. If the child doesn't have the motor skills necessary to manipulate a keypad, the iPad can be outfitted with adaptive switches and buttons.
At the kickoff event, all of the kids received their iPads, and one youngster named Logan showed everyone what his device has helped him accomplish. According to his mother, "His communication is limited, so when he's trying to tell you about his day or how things have gone, it's hard to get that out. With his communication device, he's able to describe who he is and what he likes to do, and that's been a wonderful thing for him."
In fact, Logan put together a story about himself to share with the audience, who learned that his brother is his best friend, he is on a baseball team, and he is a cheerleader at his school. His mother watched with a smile and said that the iPad has, "Opened up his world to so many possibilities."
Logan showing everyone his story
Other families told stories of children who were finally – after years of waiting – able to say "I love you." Or of kids who were relieved to know that they would be able to continue at home the progress they'd achieved at speech therapy or school. One child was hurt on her school bus but unable to tell her parents how she got hurt or where she was hurting. The "My Voice" program will make sure she never has that problem again.
The communication devices come with a steep price tag, averaging around $1,200 each. This is more than many families can easily afford, and Variety is working hard to provide as many free devices to qualifying families as possible. You can visit Variety's website to get more information on how to apply for a communication device and for information on how you can help.