Penny Kitchen

Halifax, Nova Scotia 

 

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My name is Penny Kitchen. I come from a wonderful, loving family, of which I am the eldest child. I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister, both of whom are now married with children. I love to travel, be outside, spend time with my family and friends, go on the computer, play games, watch movies and live a full and active life. I was born with cerebral palsy, so I have little to no control over my body and I am a wheelchair user. I cannot speak (though the people closest to me always know what I’m trying to say).

Though I was born in England, I was raised almost entirely in Canada. I went through the school system in Canada and my family and I have been working for many years with various Canadian government branches and social organizations in order to have the lifestyle I currently enjoy.

I first attended school in Ontario. I started school a little bit later than my peers, but I was caught up to where I was supposed to be in no time.  I continued my studies for a short time in England when my family returned there. When I moved to Nova Scotia, however, the school board would not allow me to go back to school. My family and I had to spend the next few years fighting to let me finish my education. We had to work very hard to prove that I was just as intelligent as the other students my age; all I wanted was to be able to get my education just like everyone else–one of my basic rights as a Canadian.

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Finally, we convinced them to let me pursue my education. I successfully completed Junior High School, but had more fighting ahead of me in high school. Again, I was separated from my peers when the school insisted I be placed in the Special Education program, despite the fact that my mental capabilities were just as well-developed as all of the other students.

In 1986, after years of conflict and significant effort on my part, I graduated from Sir John A. MacDonald High School in Nova Scotia. I went on to pursue my Bachelor of Commerce from Saint Mary’s University, also in Nova Scotia, which I received several years later.

I currently live in Halifax in my own apartment. I live entirely independently, but enjoy having my family close by. I hire and train all of my own attendants, to make sure that I can have adequate 24-hour-a-day care. I decide what to do with my days and make all of my own decisions. I even run my own business from my home, making greeting cards and other stationery products on my computer. I love being able to make my own money and create something that is useful to other people.

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My main communication tool is my eyes. I look up to say yes and down to say no and spell out anything that I want to say. Though this method is very effective to communicate with those people who know me well, it is very helpful to be able to speak words aloud or communicate my thoughts more quickly through the help of special devices.

I owe many of my life’s successes to the various communication devices and aids that have been made available to me. From the very early stages of development, I have used a whole array of communication devices. When I was very young, I used a head pointer to type on a typewriter. Through the years, I have moved onto devices that were more and more sophisticated. From head pointing at flash cards, to devices that actually allow me to spell and speak out loud, I am very grateful for the advancements in technology that allow me to interact with society like everyone else can.

Without my current communication device (the Pathfinder), I wouldn’t be able to use my computer independently at all. This is very important to me because while I’m on the computer, that is the only time I can be completely independent, without having to ask someone to help me. Once I’m connected, I can communicate with friends and family, run my business, answer e-mails, surf the web and even play computer games.

Needless to say, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) aids have made a huge impact on my life. I am currently in the market for a newer model, which would allow me to control it with my eyes. These devices are very expensive and it is difficult to raise the money for them, but they are absolutely a necessity for people like myself who strive to live independently.

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