In early 2015, UCP of Greater Cleveland was grateful to receive a generous grant from the Ronald McDonald House Northeastern Ohio Charities to be used toward our LeafBridge Assistive Technology and Augmentative Communication program. One of the big purchases that was made through this grant was a Tobii Eye Gaze system. This device allows children with severe physical disabilities to communicate and access technology using their eyes. Prior to receiving these funds to buy this system, the agency would have to rely on vendors loaning out the device, and often for only a few weeks at time. This resulted in the therapists not being able to trial The Tobii Eye Gaze with children on a consistent basis to see if it was truly working for them.
One of our clients who has truly benefited from having the Tobii system is twelve-year-old Kiki. When Kiki first began receiving services at UCP of Greater Cleveland, she was medically fragile and had very little access to the world around her. She does not have much control over her body movements and can verbally express only one or two words. The therapists decided to test the Eye Gaze to learn of her response. They found that using only her eyes was difficult for Kiki, so they used a head switch along with the Tobii software. This proved to be a such good match that the therapists wrote an insurance justification in order for her to get her very own Tobii to use at home and at school.
Now that Kiki has the correct tools, she has been working with the therapists to improve her abilities. She uses the Tobii to make complete sentences and to voice her opinions, wants and needs. She has become more social and even participated in a recent Valentine’s Day activity and learned how to use her Tobii to say, “your turn,” which is helpful while learning social exchanges with her peers. The best part is seeing Kiki’s personality come out. Kiki loves to use the Tobii to tell jokes, and enjoys making it talk in different voices when she’s feeling silly. Kiki is much happier now expressing herself and interacting with those around her. She is continuing to learn different ways to use the Tobii whose programs adapt with her, allowing her to grow and develop language skills at her own pace. Using the Tobii every day has finally given Kiki a voice and allowed her personality to blossom.
Kiki is just one of many children who have benefited from the Assistive Technology and Augmentative Communication devices that UCP of Greater Cleveland purchased with grant dollars received from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio. Every day we see kids use these tools to engage with the world in ways that they had not been able to before. The therapists identify the appropriate tool for each child, optimizing their potential for success. With each stride they make, they are that much closer to discovering the bridge to independence.