Jean-Eudes Bourque

Montreal, Quebec


In Latin, the word  “child” signifies  “without (deprived of) speech”

I was born with cerebral palsy and I am now 64 years old. Writing was physically impossible for me due to my continuous spasms, so I was taught to spell and to write using  magnetic plastic letters that were arranged on a wooden board covered with a metallic sheet. While completing written assignments in French, I would take much more time than the other students because the numerous letters were mixed up and spread out on a rectangular box. I would arrange the letters at the bottom of the board in order to spell out the words and sentences asked by the teacher. During my first six years, I had the same teacher. She helped me a lot; she was patient and devoted. She would always wait for me to finish placing my letters before continuing her lesson.

One day during a spelling lesson, I had the idea to point to the letters with my finger. The letters were all mixed up and not aligned. I pointed to them and my teacher wrote them. I then created an alphabet board by putting the letters in alphabetical order on a cardboard. From then on, she took the board out during every spelling lesson.

For about a year, this system served only to help me accomplish my written assignments and was not yet used to speak to people. I was already able to express myself quite well and to communicate my everyday needs by using my eyes and by pronouncing certain words. But to be understood even better, I had the idea of getting my alphabet board out of my desk and to use it not only for written assignments, but also for interactions.

The more I improved in French, the more I wanted to write and dictate my letters myself. The long letters that were addressed to my mother and written by the secretary at “Le Foyer de Charité” didn’t seem personal enough to me. The secretary would write about the various events at the “Foyer” and the priest’s comings and goings. I wanted to write about more personal things—about  my own thoughts and activities—and  not those of the “Foyer.”  I wanted to write in my own style and in my own words. With my alphabet board, I could converse more. I had more and more things to say!
In 1937, Charles Bliss, the inventor of the Bliss system, wanted to create a language which would permit people from any background to communicate with one another with the aid of pictograms. Although his dream did not come true, in 1970, it was discovered that his method facilitated learning for people using non-verbal communication. Since I already knew how to read, I had the idea to put words on my board. I chose the words according to my vocabulary at the time.
Around 2000, my speech-language pathologist showed me the Light Writer, a communication device that produces an artificial voice. I could now write full sentences on my device and be understood by people in the street or at the shopping center. Presently, I use WordQ on my computer, which really helps me write letters and texts. I only need to select the first letters of a word and the program suggests a choice of words. Therefore, I can write much more quickly. However, I still needed an interpreter for my telephone calls. WordQ also has the advantage of repeating the chosen words out loud; this allows me to be understood on the telephone. I learned how to surf the net and to use e-mail and MSN. Presently, I am also writing my autobiography.
Communication has always been essential for me. That is why I invented many different ways of communicating. With the arrival of electronics and computers, the whole world has opened up to me. By the way, did you know that the word “child” means “without speech” in Latin?

To not attribute communication aids to persons who cannot speak is, therefore, to contribute to an attitude of considering them children!

Jean-Eudes Bourque
Centre d’hébergement Centre-Ville de Montréal

 Go back to Stories