In 2004, I was referred to the Center for Applied Rehabilitation Technology (CART) in Downey, Calif., by the state Vocational Rehabilitation office as part of my preparation to attend college. Although my college plans didn't work out, my visit to CART opened many doors of independence, encouragement and hope.
I came home with all kinds of ideas that December day, and CART's thorough evaluation justified purchases by Voc Rehab, including WYNN Wizard for reading and writing, SofType 4.2, a trackball mouse and a scanner.
Seeing all the assistive technology (AT) was really encouraging. I found out that, even if I could only move one part of my body, I could still type using an awesome Morse code system. Right now, I don't need this system, but it's a comfort to know that other options are available.
Having a deteriorating, progressive disease (congenital muscular dystrophy) takes a lot of freedoms from you. For one thing, long-term intubation from scoliosis surgery and a subsequent trach have damaged my vocal cords. For seven months I had no voice, and when it came back it was very soft. I often couldn't be heard, especially in public areas.
CART outfitted me with a ChatterVox for the day. Throughout the day, no one ever said, "What?" or "I can't hear you" - even in a cafeteria. Later, MDA bought me my own ChatterVox, and my communication and socialization have greatly improved.
At CART I also learned about bookshare.org, which reopened the door of reading to me. It has a whole library of books online so that people who can't manipulate books can still read.
We went to this neat house with tons of high-tech equipment. It was a model home built by the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation with universal design principles and the latest equipment. In the technology room were probably 50 different kinds of telephones - TTY, voice-activated, large buttons, Braille, etc. I tried a simple speakerphone with 10 programmable numbers, but people couldn't hear me on it.
Now I use a headset with a standard phone. California has a program that buys adapted telephones for people with disabilities. This awesome program is paid for by a $1 charge a month on every Californian's phone bill. I think this program should be nationally implemented.
CART also recommended that I get an ECU (environmental control unit). I realized that Voc Rehab probably doesn't consider running a TV part of an education plan, and the $600 cost wasn't within our grasp.
Offhandedly, I mentioned MDA. A little idea light popped into the eyes of the occupational therapist who was escorting me. She said, "I believe we have one of those (ECUs) that MDA donated. MDA told us to give it to someone of our choice who had MD."
Well, right then and there, they chose me! I now use the TASH Relax II ECU for my TV, DVD, CD player and fan. It's so nice to have that little bit of independence.
I learned of many other technologies. One program lets you scan the pages of a textbook onto the computer so you can read it. This program also allows highlighting, text notes, bookmarking, and has options to help those with learning disabilities - which I didn't need.
The house was remarkable. My mom (who has a milder form of CMD and can walk and perform basic physical tasks) was marveling at the adaptive kitchen, with special counters, drawers and appliances. Mom said, "If I had a kitchen like this I could cook independently again." I also remember seeing a machine that fed someone with a push of a button.
My trip to CART offered me hope for the future, knowing there's technology to help keep me active. I use SofType, the ECU and a mike every day. Every iota of independence is precious. Without CART I wouldn't have this independence.
CART (www.rancho.org/cart), part of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, accepts national referrals, which are sometimes paid for by insurance policies or Voc Rehab. CART is everything that a technology center should be - friendly, informative, and promoting hope and independence.
Christamae Zimpel, 21, of Ceres, Calif., likes to read, write poetry, socialize and e-mail. She's involved with disability and Disney groups, and works with the support group Ones Who Care. You can see more about her at www.caringbridge.com/ca/oellacz.