Autumn Cruz /

Keith Cooper shows off his new communication device, called a PenFriend, purchased for him by Book of Dreams readers. When he unwrapped it he kept saying “mine” in sign language; he used it to place a fast-food order on Tuesday.

Devices open world of communication for two men

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011 - 12:12 am

It was snack time, and Justin Shimizu was making his wishes known.

"I want cookies," the automated voice on his new iPad said when he pressed a special program's cookie icon again and again.

"OK, J, calm down," said Koua Vang, his InAlliance training specialist. "He keeps pressing, 'I want cookies.' "

Shimizu's iPad isn't simply a new high-tech toy: It's a lifeline to the world of words.

With the help of Book of Dreams readers, Shimizu – a 24-year-old who can't speak – is able to communicate his needs and wants.

Another device, a PenFriend, is helping another nonverbal InAlliance client. Keith Cooper, 50, is using it to communicate with the wider world, said Bill Carmazzi, program director for the Sacramento nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities find employment and independence.

It was a special moment when Vang first showed Shimizu the iPad, outfitted with its own protective case, with his name affixed to a sticker at the bottom.

"He just smiled so big," Vang said. "He was smiling like crazy. He made this little squeaky sound he makes when he gets his snacks. It's so amazing.

"This will be great. It will open the door to communication for him. He can actually show us want he wants, and we can teach him to say, 'please' and 'thank you.' "

– Anita Creamer

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