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Device would give 23-year-old freedom of speech

Gabriela Gonzalez, 23, whose severe cerebral palsy not only requires her to use a wheelchair but also makes her heavily slurred speech difficult to understand, works with Jamie Crum, program director with the Communication Technology Education Center or CTEC while conducting a field evaluation using a DynaVox T15 speech-generating device at the Arden-Dimick Library.
Gabriela Gonzalez, 23, whose severe cerebral palsy not only requires her to use a wheelchair but also makes her heavily slurred speech difficult to understand, works with Jamie Crum, program director with the Communication Technology Education Center or CTEC while conducting a field evaluation using a DynaVox T15 speech-generating device at the Arden-Dimick Library. lsterling@sacbee.com

Imagine being thirsty but unable to reach for a glass for water – or even ask for one.

Imagine feeling an emotion – love, anger, sorrow, gratitude – but being unable to express it to a friend, parent, doctor, store clerk or stranger on the street.

Such are the boundaries of life for Gabriela Gonzalez, whose severe cerebral palsy not only requires her to use a wheelchair but also makes her heavily slurred speech nearly impossible for anyone outside her family to understand.

With a little help, Gonzalez, 23, could soon experience something miraculous that most of us take for granted – the ability to communicate.

To achieve her dream and literally give voice to her feelings, Gonzalez needs a speech-generating device known as a DynaVox T15. Resembling a laptop computer, the device allows users to select picture symbols on a screen and compose messages that are instantly broadcast by a recorded voice.

Acquiring the ability to be heard would be transformational for Gonzalez, her family says, dramatically increasing her independence and – one of her greatest hopes – perhaps allowing her to get a job. More fundamentally, the technology would make everyday life less stressful and more fulfilling, enabling Gonzalez to talk with friends, express opinions and more actively engage in the world.

“It would be so awesome for her if she could hold her own conversations and get her point across without us trying to translate for her all the time,” said one of Gonzalez’s two sisters, Maria. “Even little things like ordering her own food at a restaurant would mean so much to her.”

The Gonzalez family can’t afford the DynaVox, which runs more than $6,450, including mounting equipment for Gabby’s wheelchair. Fortunately, insurance will cover the cost, but obtaining funding requires an intensive series of evaluations by a speech pathologist and an approval process that can last up to nine months.

Gonzalez is undergoing the evaluation process now, thanks to the Communication Technology Education Center. CTEC, a Sacramento nonprofit founded five years ago through donations and grants, uses technology to help people with severe language delays, including those with autism, Down syndrome, throat cancer and other conditions impairing their ability to speak.

CTEC is asking The Bee’s Book of Dreams readers to help the organization expand its pool of speech-generating devices and supportive equipment so it can be loaned to clients like Gonzalez while they await funding for their own machines. CTEC also needs additional devices for its therapists to use in assisting and evaluating clients in the field.

“This equipment is so liberating for our clients, but it’s very difficult for many of them to come to our office to use it or be evaluated,” said Jamie Crum, CTEC’S program director. “As we’ve evolved as an organization it’s become clear we need to bring our equipment to them.”

Gonzalez, who lives with her family in Rio Linda, experienced a lack of oxygen during birth, leaving her with cerebral palsy affecting all the muscles in her body. She receives full-time assistance with all of her daily needs, including a condition called dysarthria, a motor speech disorder.

Despite her limitations, Gonzalez has full cognitive functioning, a ready smile and a vivid sense of humor. She graduated from Highlands High School and, according to Bai Xiong, an aide who assists her, “she is smarter than I am.”

Recently, Gonzalez visited the Sacramento County Library’s Arden-Dimick branch and worked with Crum on the DynaVox. Using a joystick doubling as a computer mouse, she painstakingly selected symbols on the colorful screen to spell a few messages.

Encouraged by Crum, and straining to control spasms in the muscles of her right hand, Gonzalez first wrote, “I want book about horses.” (She loves horses. And dogs. And, she confided, she had a hamster that recently died.)

Next came a more powerful message: “With my DynaVox I can talk to people.”

Asked where she might like to use the speech-generating device in the community, Gonzalez smiled and gave an answer many other 20-something women might:

“The mall.”

2014 BOOK OF DREAMS

For more than 25 years, The Sacramento Bee's Book of Dreams has helped people and organizations in our community realize their dreams. Their needs can be as simple as a pair of shoes for someone who is homeless; holiday baskets for low-income families or a shiny, new bike for a child. Whatever the dream, you can help by making a donation today.

All donations are tax deductible and none of the money received will be used for administrative costs. The Book of Dreams fund is administered by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. If you donate online, the Region Foundation will appear on your statement.

Needed: DynaVox T15 speech-generating device

Cost: $6,000.

Donate Now!

Download a pdf donation form

If you have additional questions, please call the Book of Dreams line at (916) 556-5667. Donations will be accepted through Jan. 16.

* To claim a tax deduction for 2014, all donations must be postmarked by Dec. 31. All contributions are tax-deductible and none of the money received will be spent on administrative costs. Partial contributions are welcome on any item. In cases where more money is received than requested for a given need, the excess will be applied to meeting the unfulfilled needs in this Book of Dreams. Funds donated in excess of needs listed in this book will fulfill wishes received but not published and will be donated to social service agencies benefiting children at risk. The Sacramento Bee has verified the accuracy of the facts in each of these cases and we believe them to be bona fide cases of need. However, The Sacramento Bee makes no claim, implied or otherwise, concerning their validity beyond the statement of these facts.

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