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Using One's Foot for AAC
Clearly the one constant in assistive technology is that no two people use the same device in the same way. Beside individual uses and applications, all users interact with assistive devices in a unique, personal way. Brenda Frierson, a consumer at United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago, is an illuminating example, for she accesses assistive technology—and the physical world in general—using only the toes on her right foot.
A native Chicagoan, Brenda was born with cerebral palsy and is not able to walk, use her hands, or speak. However, Brenda was also born with an iron will; around kindergarten-age, she taught herself to pick up and move objects with her toes. Today Brenda uses just her toes and a joystick to operate her motorized wheelchair, use a computer, eat, write, or activate her Tobii AAC device (alternative augmentative communication). Brenda exerts a great deal of physical energy operating any device, but always seems to accept it matter-of-factly. At one time Brenda held a data entry job with Seguin Services (listed below) and hopes to obtain a job using a computer in the future.
Brenda operating joystick with her left foot
For someone without the ability to speak, Brenda is a strong communicator. She engages direct eye contact with listeners as she releases synthetic voice-output from her Tobii AAC unit. She may be using synthetic speech, but there's no mistaking that the message comes from Brenda. It's a good thing someone as communicative and sociable as she is has an assistive device to handle the "mechanics" of speech. Brenda also uses Intellikeys, a keyboard overlay system, and various computer programs. For everything else, Brenda relies on her own powers!
Known as "Toes" by her friends, Brenda laughs easily and enjoys many interests—music being her favorite, particularly Blues and Gospel. Brenda plays the keyboard with her toes and reads music. She also likes movies, good books and relaxing with or emailing friends.
Brenda lives in Berkley, Illinois in an assisted living residence. She has a roommate and a weekend caretaker to help with daily living tasks. She learns independent living skills and computer skills at several UCP offices in and around the Chicago area.
People with disabilities often express an extraordinary tenacity as they tackle the many obstacles in the physical world. Many of us emerge strengthened from the struggle, but few have to work so hard just to move, while still keeping a smile. Brenda's smile is something that stays with you.