Many people describe Disney World as “the most magical place on earth.” Twelve year old Austin G. could not agree more. Having been there four times, he loves Disneyworld and would like to return again. His first visit, at four years old, was made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. To Austin, one of the best things about the theme park is its accessibility. The park has been designed to be “wheelchair friendly,” with few barriers to those with mobility impairments.
If Austin were given the chance to participate again with the Make-A-Wish Foundation he would want to appear on the television game show The Price is Right before Bob Barker retires. He really enjoys watching the show and was saddened by the news of Barker’s pending retirement.
When not spending his vacation at Disney World, Austin enjoys going to the beach with his family. He loves spending time with his mom, dad and 16-year-old brother. His family also includes a cat and two dogs - a Yorkshire terrier named Mickey and a Labrador Retriever named Shady.
Austin’s extended family is very important to him; his grandfather is his role model. When asked if there was one specific quality about his grandfather that makes him a role model, Austin replied that his grandfather is simply wonderful in every way and he hopes to follow in his footsteps.
In fact, everyone in Austin’s life is important to him. They are all very involved and help him a lot. If it weren’t for them and the assistive technology that he uses, he would not be where he is today. His family firmly believes that “without assistive technology Austin’s life wouldn’t be the same.”
The family learned about AT and other services for which Austin is eligible through their state’s parent-to-parent support organization, Family Connection of South Carolina. They learned a lot by talking to other parents and they received important emotional support. The parents at Family Connection work together throughout the year to hold events for the community. The organization, for which Austin’s mom ended up working, provided the family with much-needed support and information that will help Austin succeed in life.
Austin uses AT in almost every aspect of his life, for communication, learning and fun. He has severe cerebral palsy and has been using technology since he was two years old. AT really began to make an impact on his life when he was about seven and started to understand what the technology could do. At that point he was able to understand the concept of cause and effect. He learned that when he hit a switch, something happened.
Austin uses a wheelchair to get around. He recently got a new wheelchair, which has caused some difficulties. He describes the difficulties as minor, but says they are having trouble finding a way to mount his other pieces of technology to the chair. Those items include a BigMack, a big red switch, an ultimate switch, and Cheap Talk.
The BigMack is a communication device. With it, Austin can record any message directly into a single message tool and press its large activation surface for message playback. He has a big red switch, which he uses when he is working with the computer. His ultimate switch helps him control many of the things in his environment and is very easy to use. The ultimate switch is on a spring, which enables Austin to control it using his head when he wants to. What is great about this switch is that it can be controlled by any part of the body. This is particularly helpful for Austin because some days different parts of his body work better than others. Generally, he does very well with his head and his right knee.
Finally, he uses Cheap Talk. With this device, he can put up to eight different switches into one device. There are also four places to plug in external switches for activating the recorded messages. He works with his therapist in using this particular piece of AT.
Austin says that his AT devices have helped him gain independence. He is able to make choices and entertain himself. Without AT he would have no access to the computer or be able to play with his toys without assistance from others. His AT is also useful when it comes to education.
Austin receives most of his education at home, although every Wednesday he goes to the local school. There, he receives speech therapy services and enjoys group time with other students in special education. At school he uses a switch to access the computer, which facilitates inclusion. He loves school because he can be around other children. He particularly likes reading and story time. He also enjoys counting and can count from one to ten in both English and Spanish!
Although Austin is home-schooled, the school provides the family with many services. He receives physical, occupational, and speech therapy that all use assistive technology in some way. He also has a vision teacher and, infrequently, they are able to get a general education teacher to come to the house.
In the past Austin has participated in after-school activities, including challenge league baseball. He hopes to be able to pick that up again soon because it makes him happy to do things with other kids. He also enjoys going swimming in the summer time.
Austin is a terrific kid with a lot to contribute. If he could change something in the world, he would like people to know that even though he is different and does not communicate like everyone else, he is still approachable. He feels he is just like every other kid and wants to be viewed that way. He is very grateful for what AT has done for him in his efforts to gain independence and grow as a person.