Everyone Can Read!
Emil is a young man, 24 years of age, from Durban, South Africa. Emil has spastic quadriplegia and has never spoken one word ... not even a close approximation to a word. Therefore, he uses Minspeak to communicate - first in a DeltaTalker and now in a Pathfinder communication device with Unity128. He is able to walk and can carry his device, but most activities of daily living require various degrees of support.
Emil has a passion for life and at the age of 20 took up golf for persons living with a disability. He holds the club in his less affected hand and through sheer determination and love of the game, has shown significant improvement. He is an ambassador for the South African Disabled Golfing Association, where he is often called upon to deliver votes of thanks or brief speeches on behalf of his fellow golfers. This he does with his Pathfinder and there is never an occasion where people are not in awe of his grit and "never say die" attitude.
Emil has never been able to communicate orally. Because of this and the nature of his disability, his expressive language is poorly constructed and he finds it very difficult to construct grammatically correct sentences. This is despite years of traditional speech-language therapy with very experienced and dedicated therapists. Yet seldom are there occasions when Emil does not get his message across to his conversation partners.
Emil has a charming and warm personality, so interacting and engaging with both known and unknown people has never been an issue for him. But the one area that he and his parents have been yearning for is for him to be able to read. They are all avid readers and want Emil to share their joy of reading. Emil would love to read the sports pages of the daily newspaper and to join the family on their holidays by relaxing with a book to read.
His mom, Marsha, attended an ISAAC conference in Washington, DC and met a man who learned to read at the age of 40. She therefore would not give up on her belief that Emil, too, could learn to read. So, at the age of 20, Emil commenced his reading lessons. His lessons involves specific reading instruction, conducted with the use of his communication device. One key aspect of his reading program was the mapping of the written word to the spoken word encoded in the Unity128 program. This assisted in retention of the written word and its spoken sound.
On his initial baseline assessment, Emil read 26 words. He contracted with his reading teacher to learn 10 words per day for 5 days a week. These words were primarily core vocabulary, those words critical for both communication and successful acquisition of literacy. The words were taken from the Bridge to Literacy reading program, authored by Maureen Casey, as well as a manual communication board developed by Gail Van Tatenhove.
Emil learned his words well and the self-correcting attribute of the Pathfinder assisted him in learning. We practiced his reading by reading out loud using his Pathfinder. If he misread a word, the speech output provide quick feedback which helped him self-correct his reading error. Furthermore the non-threatening Pathfinder gave him leeway to make reading errors without anybody hearing his mistake and his feeling embarrassed. Reading with the Pathfinder was helped Emil become a confident reader.
After 9 months of developing good core vocabulary, along with phonemic encoding and decoding skills, Emil was able to read books at a Grade 3 or early Grade 4 level. He loved the non-fiction books in the Eyewitness series. He gradually progressed to adolescent books and then at the end of his 2nd year of tuition, progressed to adult books like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson.
Life for Emil has changed considerably now that he is literate. He now can look up the programs he wants to watch on cable in the TV guide without having to ask his mom to read them to him. He reads when the rest of the family curl up with books and is an active communicant on "Facebook," sending hearts and hugs to his sweetheart. While his grammar is still problematic, it too has improved. And the more he reads the better it becomes.
The Pathfinder with Minspeak and Unity128 has certainly opened a door to the wonderful world of literacy for Emil.