Dennis Larned, AAC-RERC Writers Brigade
During my first semester of college, I took a communication class in which I was required to write four essays. Since I had never drafted an essay before, I asked my professor for extra help. Gradually, I not only learned to craft compositions; I also developed a flare for writing. At the end of the semester, I was so proud of myself for learning a new skill that would help me in my life. In the course of writing the essays, I discovered that writing has a power all its own to change hearts and win friends.
However, making friends was not always easy when I was growing up because I utilized the Handy Voice to communicate. It was very cumbersome since the voice sounded like a robot that was speaking slowly. Unfortunately, people could not understand what I was saying or read the display. Years later, I accessed a Touch Talker. It had a clearer voice as well as a display so, people could understand me more easily. Finally, during my senior year of college, I received my Pathfinder and discovered that it had the clearest voice of my three other AAC devices. As a result, I could speak and write powerfully.
My successes in college gave me more confidence when I communicated with people. As a result, I became ambassador for the Prentke Romich Company. I traveled to schools and speech-language pathology conferences, sharing my experiences with speech-generating devices. Eventually, I decided to expand my speaking and writing skills by participating in Partners in Policymaking, a comprehensive program that teaches people with disabilities, parents and professionals to become advocates. There, I learned to craft legislation, testify at legislative hearings and gain a stronger voice in my community.
Now, I actively advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. I remain involved with Partners in Policymaking by taking action on legislative issues. Since 2005, I have been writing and editing a newsletter for Community Quest of Southern New Jersey, a supported living program. I enjoy doing so because it allows me to tell the stories of people with disabilities who contribute to their community. In addition, I currently serve as the president of Over the Rainbow with Challenges, a local self-advocacy group. As a result of these efforts I have been awarded the Sandy Steinberg Scholarship, Donald J. Sykes Award and Counseling and Support Services Certification. I am committed to advocating for people with disabilities and sharpening my writing skills.
During my time in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC) Writers Brigade, I hope to research the existing manuals for augmentative and alternative communication devices and assist manufacturers in developing user-friendly guides. This would allow others with speech disabilities to discover the power of writing and speaking themselves.