1My name is Natalie. I have cerebral palsy. When I was 2 years old Istarted to go to George Hastwell Special School. My Mum and Dad,Teacher, the Head teacher and the Speech and Language Therapist atschool wanted me to be able to communicate but I could not talk orcontrol the movement of my hands or arms. Nat at 2 years oldThey found out I could use my eyes so showed me how to usephotographs and then Bliss symbols through eye pointing on an e tranframe and on communication boards. Bliss Symbols Etran frame Then my speech therapist went to a Mardis conference and sawthe ORAC communication aid, she told the head teacher about it and he
2bought one for the school to use, it was meant to be shared by quite afew people but before long I was the main person using it. To start with Iused the ORAC by pressing a switch with my hand. This was very hard forme but did give me a way to use the ORAC. ORAC Communication AidFirst I used it to play with, playing games and music. My first overlay hadsound effects on, my favourite was a chicken, and it made me giggle alot. My first overlay to help me ask for things had eight things on it, thishad to be changed very quickly as drink was in the top left hand cornerand as this was the first thing scanned I often hit it by mistake and endedup having a lot of drinks! Mardis got in touch with George Hastwell School looking forsomeone to put on their brochure. They wanted to look at a few of thechildren who used the ORAC to find someone for their picture. The headteacher said they would be bound to choose me but they wanted tolook. Anyway they did choose me so I was on their brochure for quite afew years. Someone came and took a photograph of me then they had itpainted, I have the painting up in my house! When I was 5, I went to Vickerstown Primary school. By this time Iwas using 16 squares on my ORAC. My ORAC was used in levels but as itused a paper overlay someone had to change this for me. A year later Istarted to use 32 squares with row and column scanning. This madeswitching a bit quicker for me but it was still hard. I also started to usecolour and shape encoding with my eye pointing charts.
3 This is me at Vickerstown Primary School When I was 7 the ACE centre came to assess me, they suggested Itry using my knees to switch with. This was much easier. I was moreaccurate and it was less hard work. To start with I used 1 knee switch soI still had to get my timing right. After a year I used 2 switches, one tomove the scan and the other to select. Now I am back to using just oneswitch as it is easier for me and I can do the timing very well. SwitchesWhen I first got my ORAC it only worked with digital speech, soon theybrought out an update which included synthetic speech. This meant Ihad my own voice rather than someone recorded, it also meant I couldbegin to use spelling with word prediction. I started using Ora talk whichwas really quite robotic but when I was young I accepted this as my
4voice and so did my friends, when I got a bit older I got Dectalk whichsounded a better. Initially we had not mounted my ORAC. When we tried to arrangethis we had a few problems. Because I was small and light and my chairwas light as well wheelchair services were worried that putting acommunication aid on my chair would tip it up. We had a fewdiscussions about this and in the end the manager of Mardis came to ameeting, his idea was that because I was not using the ordinary footplate brackets on my chair, I had a different arrangement, we could useone of them to mount the ORAC. Because it was mounted low down thisstopped my chair tipping so I was then able to have the ORAC with meall the time. Mounting To start with I had been mainly using my ORAC to play with, do myschool work, answer questions, and ask for things, I did not really use itfor spontaneous communication. This changed when my parents tookme to Euro Disney for a holiday. When I came back I was desperate totell people all I had done and seen and so started to use my ORAC to telleveryone about my holiday. Now I use my communication aid to talk allthe time so my parents did not know what they started by taking me toEuro Disney! About the same time as this holiday I decided I did notwant to use symbols anymore. I wanted my overlays to have just wordson. By now I was also able to change the levels on my ORAC myself. I stillneeded the overlay changing for me but often I could move between thelevels and knew what was on the buttons without the overlay anyway.My Speech and Language Therapist thought I must have some sort ofinternal map of my overlays in my head.
5 By now the ORAC photograph was four years old and they wanteda more up to date one. They came to school to take one. They wantedme to be using my ORAC, I had been working in class on water and thesentence I used when they were taking the photograph was “We usewater to flush the toilet”, it was a very funny photography sessions. My next challenge was using a power chair. Ideally we wanted meto be able to use my ORAC at the same time as driving my chair. Againthere were problems with mounting and also working out how I coulduse my switches to control the chair. I have used different combinationsof switches to do this over the years including using switches with myknees and my head. By the time I was 9, I was using 128 squares on my ORAC. I wasmainly spelling but had different levels for some subjects. This did meanthat I potentially needed the overlays changing for me although I wasgenerally still managing to remember what was where on each level. As Iwould be starting secondary school in two years and by this time myORAC was getting a bit elderly my parents began to look for a newcommunication aid for me. They felt that a dynamic screen device wouldsolve the problem of overlays. We looked at a number of differentdevices, I preferred a text based system with word prediction. I alsoneeded to be able to record my work and it was felt that it would beeasier if the software for this was available on the same device I wasusing for communication. With my access difficulties this made sense asit meant I would not have to get used to two systems. Eventually I got aCameleon. No one locally had worked with one before so it was a bit of achallenge. With the ORAC everyone had been able to learn about itgradually as I needed new features especially as it was a new device andnew developments tended to come out just as I needed them. With theCameleon I had to use it in a quite sophisticated way straight away.Luckily my Mum got very good at it and often programmed things for
6school for me; my Dad was good at the technical side of things andsometimes came out of work to sort problems. When I was 11 I transferred to Walney Comprehensive School. Aswell as the Cameleon I also got some other software including Clicker. Iused this for quite a lot of my school work. I did well at Secondary andgot 2 GCSEs, a C in Food Technology and a D in Science. I also enjoyedlearning languages including French, German and Spanish. After school I went to a residential college quite a long way fromhome, this did not work out so I came home and went instead toBeaumont College. This worked well. At Beaumont I did a vocationalstudies course, music, art and performance. I did a lot of computer workI helped produce their newsletter once I term with news about what washappening at college. We also made staff badges. While I was atBeaumont I had a new Cameleon but this was a bit unreliable and keptbreaking down which was very frustrating. I became involved inBeaumont’s Wheeltop project and Beaumont provided my with the Grid2 based device I am using now.
7I use it for all my communication including e mails and texting and forplaying my music; I also go on the internet with it. This device is nowbecoming old and unreliable so I have been looking at newcommunication aids. As part of this process I tried eye gaze but this didnot work for me so I will continue to use my knees. I have chosen a MyTobii C12 and am just waiting to hear about funding. I think one of the things that has helped me is that I started to useAAC very early and my parents encouraged me to join in with whateverwas going on. I learnt to use my ORAC to a certain extent before I wentto mainstream primary school so I could concentrate on what I neededto learn at school rather than doing too much to learn mycommunication system, although there was still a lot of work on thatover the years. I was also a guinea pig as I was the first person in mylocal area using a communication aid in mainstream school. At the time Iwas also one of the youngest people to have a complex voice outputcommunication aid.