Kerr Wattie

Toronto, Ontario 

 

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I like to challenge people’s attitudes, assumptions and vocabulary about individuals like myself who have exceptionalities because I want people to develop more understanding, awareness and respect.  
I’m committed to furthering the human rights of all people with exceptionalities, but particularly those who rely on AAC.  With my communication device, I’ve been giving presentations about my life, AAC, inclusion and human rights at conferences and universities.  I hope to expand the presentations I give, to reach high school and elementary students, as well as a broader public.  

I don’t see very well, so I use auditory scanning.   My communication device is usually mounted on the back of my wheelchair.  When I touch my switch, that activates my device, and through speakers on the back of my wheelchair, I hear auditory cues for menus, sentences, phrases and words I can say. With my switch, I toggle through the menus until I find what I want to say.  I touch my switch again, and the computer-generated voice on my communication device says it loud enough for other people to hear.  

Auditory scanning is very slow, and sometimes frustrating.  It doesn’t work when a room is noisy, since I can’t hear the auditory cues on my device. It’s also hard to use auditory scanning in a conversation with a group of people when they aren’t waiting to hear what I have to say.  Conversation moves quickly, but my communication device doesn’t.  I do have some places on my communication device where I quickly can make comments like, “Cool!”, “Awesome!”, “No way!”, or I can ask questions like, “Can you tell me more?” or “Can you explain that?”  Sometimes that works in a group conversation if it’s not too noisy.

I also have many other ways I communicate.  My favourite is with blinks.  My communication assistant asks me questions about what I want to say, and I indicate my choices by blinking my eyes. I also blink to say, “Yes,” and “I agree.”   If I don’t blink, my assistant just needs to ask if I mean “no,” and I’ll blink to say, “Yes, I mean ‘no’.”  It’s a little confusing, but it works for me.  That way I can answer yes and no questions quickly. The better my assistant knows me, the more efficient my communication is because she has a good idea of the questions to ask to determine what I want to say. 

I have ongoing absence seizures which most people don’t understand.  If I’m having a seizure, I’m not able to move, blink or respond.  It’s important for my communication assistant to explain my absence seizures. Otherwise, it’s easy for people to misinterpret what’s going on.  They think I don’t want to talk to them, or they assume I don’t understand what they’re saying.  They might walk away.  I need them to know I do understand and I do want to talk to them.  I’m just having lots of absence seizures that interfere, and I appreciate their patience.  

I had a frustrating time in school.  I don’t think I got much of an education because most people in the school didn’t know about AAC and weren’t open to finding out about how I communicate.  That’s why I’m advocating for the rights of students with exceptionalities to an equal education.  I think it’s important that AAC is central to the education of students who are without speech. 

I’d like people to be curious about who I am, what I think about and what interests me.  Just because I communicate differently doesn’t mean I’m that different from anyone else.  Being heard, understood and respected is as important to me as it is to anyone else.

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