Eric Zamora finally has a voice — in two languages.
Zamora, a client of Sunflower Diversified Services, recently received an iPad that allows him to communicate much more effectively with family, friends and agency staff members.
Because of his collaboration with Glennda Drescher, Sunflower’s service coordination director and chief marketing officer, they are sharing the recent Focus on Abilities recognition at Sunflower.
Zamora, 28, has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
"Eric is extremely bright and fluent in English and Spanish," Drescher said. "His biggest concern has been his inability to speak."
In an effort to address that concern, Drescher organized a group of specialists to discuss a communications device for Zamora. It was decided that a Dynovox device would be the best fit but the cost was $7,000. A physician wrote a prescription and the application for payment was sent to Medicaid.
"Months passed and there was no word about approval or denial of the application," Drescher said. "We wrote letters explaining in detail why this device was a medical necessity.
"More months passed and Eric couldn’t communicate except through a very rudimentary hunt-and-peck letter board attached to his wheelchair," Drescher continued. "This was cumbersome and slow. During this time, Eric was extremely frustrated. A year passed and Eric had been patient long enough."
The staff had tried everything they could think of. For example, a doorbell was installed on his communication board so he could alert others that he needed to say something. Or he would raise his hand as a visual clue.
"But nothing can take the place of true communication," Drescher commented. "We had to try a different route."
Online research led to the iPad and an application called Proloquo2go, which is allowing Zamora to talk. And the cost was only $1,000, instead of the $7,000 for the other device. Drescher petitioned for a grant through the Sunflower Diversified Services Foundation and the Southwest Developmental Services Inc. Foundation. The petition was granted.
"This easy-to-use system combines text and icons so Eric can link words together quickly to form sentences and expressions," Drescher explained.
For his peers who cannot read the words he types, the iPad voice relays Zamora’s message at the touch of the screen. Some basic comments, such as "I want a snack," "My knee hurts" and "I just want to visit" have been programmed into the device — further saving time and frustration.
"Eric is now having conversations," Drescher said. "The iPad’s voice is natural and can be set for a child, adult, male or female. And it can be used in English, Spanish and many other languages. Eric now can use the phone and speak in Spanish to his mother in Texas."
Zamora describes the iPad as "cool" and his pre-iPad life as "hard, frustrating."
Erin Hemphill, St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center speech/language pathologist, and Cindy Jones of Southwest Kansas Independent Living in Wichita played instrumental roles in helping Zamora find his voice, Drescher said.
Zamora, who graduated from Great Bend High School in 2002, has been a Sunflower client since 2003. He lives in Great Bend with roommates; due to health concerns his grandparents could no longer provide the level of care he needs.
"There is no telling how far Eric can go now," Drescher said. "He wants to read everything he can on his iPad and has requested textbooks."
Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults with developmental disabilities in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. The agency is celebrating its 45th birthday this year.