TECHNOLOGIES FOR VOICE
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Wist Hall 118
Day Phone: 808-956-7078
In Fall 2002, this writer was
working in partnership with the Hawaii Department of Education producing a
series of video profiles of exemplary persons with disabilities in
Brian and I communicated via email. He agreed to the making of the film, which entailed his writing a 12 minute script describing the milestone events of his life (J. Skouge, 2005b). The plan was to keep the format very simple: I would film Brian rolling into a meeting room at the university; he would acknowledge the camera with a smile and then turn to a keyboard to type his story. I would focus on his hand and face and the computer monitor as he communicated. Later, in post-production, I added my own voice, narrating Brian’s words. We met three times. On the final visit, I brought an augmentative communication device that I borrowed from a friend, asking Brian if he might end the video by speaking a few words using the talkers voice. He agreed. This is what he said:
“Now as I grow and have to think of communicating outside of this ivory tower known as school, I realize I will need some device, for people won’t be as patient to read my thoughts and will want to hear them. So I try to keep up with what’s out there in terms of augmentative devices. Ideally, it would be something very compact, without a robotic sound. This device definitely has potential. It’s compact and seemingly easy to transport. The only minor drawback, and , again maybe this is something I’ll need to learn to accept, is the robotic voice. I’m still hopeful, though with the extreme progession in technology today, synthesized voices will be available that will compare with human quality speech. My critical view of the speech quality on such devices is something that I need to accept. And quickly. I must learn to not be so picky. As they say, beggars can’t be too choosy.” (J. Skouge, 2004a)
This was our final “shoot”. Brian and I parted company. Several months later I attended his December graduation; learning that he had not yet been accepted into graduate school and was uncertain as to his future. Later that spring, I received an email from Brian asking if he might “volunteer” in my office some days each week, helping me in whatever way we might envision. I immediately said, “Yes” realizing that neither Brian nor I had any idea where this might lead. He had never before been in my office nor did we know one another beyond the experience of the video project. All I knew was that Brian was intelligent, goal directed, mobile and pleasant to be with. We arranged a schedule. Brian would work three mornings each week, beginning immediately.
I teach educational technologies in a department of Special
Education at the
As a first order of business, the immense conference table was dismantled. Counters were constructed along three walls to accommodate computers, television monitors, printers and scanners. Peg boards and shelves were hung on walls to maximize floor space. Light weight furniture was acquired, including stools and tray tables. The fluorescent lights were replaced with spot lamps. Arts and crafts of the Pacific were displayed. Photographs and videos of marine life and island scenes were played on the monitors. Island music flourished.
Because of the open central space, few additional accommodations were required for Brian to access all essential equipment (computers, VCR’s, cameras, printer and scanner). We acquired a TDD for telephone communications; we disconnected the hydraulic “door closer” and tied a sash to the handle so Brian could pull the door closed while driving through. The lamps were plugged into power strips so they could be turned on and off with a single switch. And we constructed Brian’s work station in a corner of the studio, angled in such a way that he could back in to gain full view of the space.
Digital access proved to be the easiest of all. Brian was capable of manipulating every key and button in our studio, bringing home the fact that the digital world essentially requires but one finger for near full control. We acquired trackballs for the computers, but Brian preferred the standard mouse. We purchased camera tripods that allowed full control from the handles (zoom, tilt, pan and pause). Within days, Brian joined our video production team, filming and editing interviews.
Young people have always felt welcome in the studio. The door is open. Music is playing. Technology glows. Brian’s presence added to the welcoming spirit. He was young. He was “high tech.” He loved sports. He was “academic.” Brian could come and go as he liked. Soon Brian had his picture and office hours posted on the door, with the caption: “Brian Kajiyama, Digital Media Associate.” Perhaps as yet unknown to Brian, I was already embracing the next step: figuring out out how Brian could acquire a “talker,” as I strongly believed that Brian needed an audible voice.
Not many weeks after Brian’s arrival, we met Bruce Flemming, the
Brian fell in love with the DynaWrite. It was small in design, easily fitting into his backpack — an important feature for Brian. It also produced a deep, commanding voice — robotic, yes; but at least not “childlike” robotic. Before long, Brian was answering the telephone, shopping at the bookstore, delivering messages and, in many respects, managing our office. Soon, thereafter, he was admitted into the Master’s degree program in educational counseling; after which he began counseling “clients” in our office utilizing the device. The Dynavox Company published a feature article on Brian in their national newsletter (REFERENCE).
Little did any of us imagine, however, that the loan of the “talker” would stretch from weeks, to months, and finally to more than a year before our own Hawai’i State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) saw fit to actually make the purchase.
The story of Brian’s 18-month quest with DVR for the purchase of the DynaWrite was exasperating, convoluted, perhaps well-described as Kafkaesque. There were face-to face meetings between Brian and his counselor(s); letters of documentation and justification; formal “assessments” and the exchanges of many emails. Attempts were made to steer Brian to local providers even though they did not sell the device he requested. Patiently and repeatedly, Brian expressed that he had made his choice. He knew what he wanted. Time and again, Brian’s initiatives were postponed or thwarted. Perhaps his counselor did not really believe that he needed voice output communication; after all, he had made it through his Bachelor’s degree without a voice. This is speculation, however.
Midway through this affair, Brian discovered “blogging” — an Internet form of journaling. Brian had always been an avid writer. It was no surprise, therefore, that he immediately took to blogging - posting a weekly Internet entry entitled “Brian’s Ramblings.” The journal was marvelously written, describing and depicting the daily events of Brian’s life.
On January 24, 2005, he posted the following:
A very rare time that I’ll compose an entry on consecutive days. But it’ll be an interesting read, I assure you.
I like to think of myself as a nice person, I always try to do good, do the right thing, treat people with respect. I certainly don’t try to be mean or do bad to anyone. You’d think I should have good karma, or whatever you believe in....
Last night I received an email regarding my augmentative communication device. It wasn’t a bad note, in fact it was a positive one. Someone had received a Dyna Write through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). “Great!” one should think.
It’s great except for one minor detail,...i’ve been patiently waiting for over a year to receive my device, all the while trying my best to convince VR that they should support this. Finally VR is convinced, but yet there’s a bunch of hoops that I was asked to jump through. I DO all that they ask of me... .now it has become a waiting game, “pass the buck” if you will. Come to find out, a VR counselor was able to order a device for someone in less than a week’s time! How can there be such a huge disparity in this idea of “delivery of services”?
What exactly am I missing here?! Something is definitely askew in this picture. It’s like someone has punched me in my gut or played a very sick joke on me.
I’ll openly admit to literally feeling sick after processing all of this. I write this entry as I cope with a migraine headache, definitely brought on by self-induced stress. What do I take away from this? I MUST learn to deal with stress better, don’t let situations affect me so much.
I am very grateful that DynaVox has been extremely supportive of me. They have and continue to believe that I benefit greatly by using a DynaWrite: Thus, I am happy that I could help them in serving another individual who will benefit from their product. I look forward to the day that I can proclaim, “I have my OWN DynaWrite!”
Does this mean that I’ll start being not nice, more “mean” in my attempts to advocate for myself? Probably not. However, I will question my competence in advocacy until I receive the support I am entitled to. A year plus, in my eyes, is NOT considered “timely” in terms of delivery of service. (REFERENCE)
At this time, Brian was enrolled in an internship that
permitted him to assist in the teaching of one of my technology in education
classes. In that capacity, Brian gave occasional lectures and provided hands-on
assistance to student teachers in a computer lab. Midway through the semester
we determined that the students should be exposed to Brian’s ongoing struggle
to obtain the augmentative communication device. During one class session, we
projected Brian’s blog site onto a screen and read it
aloud together as a class. The students were incredulous. Proposals were made
to initiate a petition. Both Brian and I cautioned the students to exercise
restraint, fearing that on the small
One of the students, Michael Wright best summarized the collective thinking: While growing up in a small Alaskan fishing village, I never had the opportunity to meet people who were not able to utilize their natural voice. Brian was the first person I ever met that communicated with the aid of a tool which put his thoughts into speech, therefore one of the first things I learned about those in his situation was that not having a natural speaking voice does not at all mean that a person does not possess a very powerful mind, As soon as Brian started speaking through his external device, I knew that the guy was incredibly smart and was going to be a great teacher. Since then he has proven to me that I was not mistaken that day.
On top of being very intelligent and knowledgeable, Brian has a compassionate heart and utilizes it to relate to and help others. Although having an augmentative communicator is not necessary to put his intelligence and kind heart to work, I have seen how it allows Brian to work closer to his full potential and help turn his hopes and dreams of helping and inspiring others into a reality. By having an audible voice, Brian is able to change the minds of those who may doubt him and show others who are in his same situation that they have the power to do the same...
After Brian explained his situation to us in class, I immediately started brainstorming ways I might be supportive and help him out. As anger and fear were some of the first emotions that I felt after Brian gave his explanation, my first thoughts were to somehow rebel and protest against the situation, After sitting and talking with Brian however, I realized that getting angry and oppositional was not the best way of handling a situation like this. What would be effective, however, is showing and telling those with the authority to provide devices like the DynaWrite what a difference such tools make in all of our lives. If certain groups cannot be considerate and empathetic on their own, perhaps they needed other people to do the job for them.
As professionals we have the capabilities and connections required to perform such tasks and we’re long past the deadline to start doing them. We need to start using our imaginations and creativity to create our own assistive technologies and inspire others to do the same. Most importantly, we need to stay committed to doing what educators do: helping others realize their fu/I potential no matter what. In Brian’s case, I believe that his augmentative communicator only played the role of a tool, yet that tool serves as a bridge linking a mind with limitless potential with society at large. (Wright, 2005)
This story of the DynaWrite came
to a rather abrupt conclusion. Sterling Krysler (a
man with quadriplegia who is a role model for assistive technologies (J. Skouge, 2004d) on the advisory board for the Division of
Vocational Rehabilitation) took it upon himself to contact the DVR Director to
ask him if he had read Brian’s blog. He had not.
Soon thereafter Brian received a communication from his counselor that she had authorized an immediate purchase of the device; chiding Brian, nonetheless, for “unprofessionalism” for using the Jnternet as a forum to post his feelings.
Brian started in our studio as a “volunteer.” His mother
dropped him off on her way to work by seven o’clock a.m.; returning in the
afternoons at five. The family had a wheelchair accessible van. Brian had
“proven himself’, having learned every technical skill of video, multimedia and
telecommunications that we expected; in combination with marvelous
interpersonal skills and a strong desire to help and serve. It was time that he
be paid. In Fall 2004, Dr.
David Leake, with the
Dr. Leake left it up to us to define digital storytelling, which was wonderful, because it inspired us to develop an expansive definition: “digital storytelling” would include technologies Jar voice in which people are empowered to find their voices and to speak for themselves. Digital story telling represented any creative application of technology to celebrate life experience and to enhance communication, including photo essays, audio interviews, narrated slide presentations, video documentaries and ‘visualizations”; and telecommunications such as audio and video teleconferencing and Internet publishing (J. Skouge, 2005a). Dr. Leake embraced our definitions and offered Brian a graduate assistantship to share his stories and those of others. A more perfect job description could not have been written. Brian and I were challenged to explore technologies for voice, starting with Brian’s own.
Brian began by producing video poetry (music
videos), inspired by the work of Norman Kunc in
Our counseling intervention model includes 7
elements that are interactive and synergistic:
• Person-centered planning: identifying hopes and dreams; aptitudes and interests; assistive technology supports, goals, circles of support, objectives and timelines; and opportunities for community service (NCSET, 2004; J. Skouge, 1997);
• Assistive technology supports, addressing transportation, mobility, physical access, communication, computer and other technology access (Alliance for_Technolgy Access, 2002; J. Skouge, 1997, 1998);
• Technology skill-building, including photography, videography, telecommunications
• and multimedia presentation (J. Skouge, 2005b; J. Skouge & Boisvert, 2004; J. R. Skouge et al., 2004);
• Role modeling: identifying a role model and designing opportunities for social exchange (either face-to-face, or video letter, or teleconferencing) (Radtke & Skouge, 2003; J. Skouge, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 2004d; I. Skouge & Radtke, 2001; J. Skouge, Radtke, Klemm, & Zangerle, 2000; J. Skouge & Ratliffe, 2004a);
• Self modeling: employing multimedia to create visual representations (visualizations) of self-identified goals (Bandura, 1997; Bradley, 1993; Dorwrick, 1999; Dowrick, Skouge, & Galbavy, 1999; Dowrick & Skouge, 2001; J, Skouge, M. Kelly, & K. Thomas, 2003; J. R. Skouge, M. L. Kelly, & K. Thomas, 2003; Starek & McCaullagh, 1999);
• Self advocacy: creating opportunities for persons to speak for themselves in public forums, sharing their multimedia expressions (Kajiyama, 2005; Kelly, 2004; Kelly & Thomas, 2003; J. Skouge, 2005a);
• Community service: becoming a role model or mentor or otherwise “giving back” to community (Radtke & Skouge, 2003; J. Skouge, 1997; J. Skouge & Radtke, 2001).
The illustrations provided below are referenced
to three clients whom Brian is currently serving, as part of his internship
requirements for his Master’s degree. I function as his advisor. Sharon and Eulalia are Deaf women enrolled in their first year at the
We wanted Sharon and Eulalia to engage in a project that included role modeling, technologies for voice, self advocacy and community service. First, we constructed opportunities for them to interact with role models and, in turn, to become role models in their own rights. Brian invited an associate named Steven Wichilfil to join him on the project. Steven is a college student from
We undertook a photography project. Sharon and Eulalia were given a digital still camera, with the
expectation that each week they would take pictures based on themes. Themes
have included friends, shopping, going to school, scenery of
The women take these “contact sheets” to school at Gallaudet during the subsequent week. Their teachers and friends help them to compose sentences to go with the pictures. Then on their next appointment with Brian and Steven, they type their sentences into “photo essay” software on our computer. The photo essays are then printed in color on photographic paper for the women to keep in a memory book.
This project serves several functions. It provides a “visual7’, voice for women who are Deaf and struggling with communication. It includes technology skill building (digital photography, photo cropping and lay-out). And it evokes joy and bonding among the four young people. Further, it provides the women with multimedia supports for public speaking and self advocacy.
In Spring 2005 Sharon
and Eulalia were invited to present their story at an
international conference on disabilities in
The next step of the project is to produce a DVD of the women interpreting their essays in American Sign Language (J. Skouge & Boisvert, 2004). This DVD and the photo essays will then be provided to Deaf educators in
Life is much more difficult for
Our first message to
Brian (along with another university student engaged in “service learning”) takes
These are wonderful experiences for
In the coming year we plan to train Brandon to produce photo essays and videos, focusing on self advocacy and transition planning (visualizing hopes, dreams, goals and challenges) (Kelly, 2004; Kelly & Thomas, 2003). These projects (perhaps “packaged” as a Powerpoint presentation and a Web site) will be intended to give Brandon a public voice to advocate for a new powered wheelchair and to set a course for his education (perhaps majoring in television production at the community college near his home).
Finally, we are seeking a venue for
These case examples of Sharon, Eulalia and Brandon illustrate our belief that counseling must be “interventionist” and “empowering.” Our strategy is to employ role models and technologies for voice to empower young people to gain confidence that they can join us in community (J. Skouge, 2005a; J. Skouge et al., 2003; J. R. Skouge et al., 2003).
We employ video as a critical and essential
tool. All of our students and clients engage in projects in front of the camera
and behind it, producing interviews, presentations, plays and documentaries
sharing the beauty of place, self and community (J. Skouge,
2005b; J. R. Skouge et al., 2004). Sometimes these
projects are intended only for the family. Other times they are shared publicly
in university classes, at conferences and at transition meetings where the
first voice is (as it should be) that of the person with disabilities.
Perhaps Brian’s “blog story” best foretells the future. As persons with disabilities find their voices in media, the Internet becomes an ideal venue for communication. Brian regularly posts his photographs and text to his blog site; and soon we hope to do the same with video and audio projects, utilizing video streaming and podcasting. We are also exploring live teleconferencing in which “virtual communities” can see and talk to one another and share their multimedia expressions.
These technologies present new opportunities to create peer support and consumer advocacy networks and, as in Brian’s blog story, they permit a “public voice” with all of the opportunities and responsibilities that go with publication.
We operate in a university setting, which is perhaps ideal for this work. We are surrounded by youth with and without disabilities, who are eager to learn new technologies and develop social relationships with persons who are different from themselves. Many of our courses include internships, practical and service learning opportunities which facilitate community building and authentic projects. Recently, we remodeled our computer lab to make it inviting to wheelchair users, by relocating the furniture around the perimeter of the room to create an open center (just as we described the remodeling of our studio at the beginning of this paper). We see the university classroom as a crucible forfinding voice, in which Brian, Brandon, Sharon and Eulalia can partner with fellow students to explore technologies for voice.
Can this model be applied to other circumstances and settings? We believe so. We employ mainstream technologies that are now widely available in counseling centers; including digital video and still cameras, multimedia laptop and desktop computers, and readily available “off the shelf’ software (iMovie, MovieMaker, PowerPoint, iPhoto and iTunes). What makes our model “different”, perhaps, is our passionate commitment to putting the technologies into the hands and voices of consumer/professional teams and creating opportunities for those voices to be heard.
Technologies for Voice requires a shared commitment among professionals and consumers to engage in partnerships of social change and to produce and share compelling stories of inclusion, including hopes and dreams, goals and challenges.
The model requires planned opportunities for inclusion, community building, role modeling and community service, including considerations of transportation, mobility, augmentative communication and physical access. The model requires the construction of opportunities for public expression. People find their voices by sharing them with audiences in classrooms, at conferences and team planning meetings (including “virtual communities” via the Internet). Technologies for Voice may be most compatible in university settings where there is an energetic resource of young people who embrace technology as a way of life and are open to new constructions of social discourse and relationship. Regardless of the setting, however, it is our belief that we are limited only by our creativity.
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