Kylie Bryant (“Kye” to her friends) would probably shout from a mountaintop how she loves her new voice. Just a year ago, she had no idea she would feel that kind of enthusiasm for an augmentative and alternative communication device she worked simply by moving her eyes.
The 19-year-old from Bolingbrook, IL had been using AAC technology since kindergarten and felt totally comfortable with the device access method she used all along—pressing one switch on her wheelchair headrest to scan and choose her words, then a second switch to speak them.
With her whatever-it-takes spirit, Kylie did well in school. Today she is a kind and assertive young woman who knows herself well. The future looks bright.
After graduating from Bolingbrook High School with the Class of 2013, Kylie entered Valley View School District 365U’s Secondary Transition Experience Program and will complete it soon. She is eagerly awaiting the culinary classes she begins at Joliet Junior College this fall.
Coinciding with this important time in Kylie’s life is her acquisition of the Tobii Dynavox I-15 that is her primary means of communication and is proving to be a real game changer for her. Though cerebral palsy compromises Kylie’s ability to speak and do physical tasks, she is sure of what she needs and wants, and able to express it articulately. She does so a lot faster and more fully with the new device. Yet for Kylie, communication goes way beyond talking. It is something more vital — and more empowering.
The possibility of an eye-gaze AAC system came up when Kylie needed a device with Bluetooth and wireless capabilities compatible with the electronic controls on her new wheelchair. But when it came to exploring a new communication access method, Yvette Baker-Bryant recalled that her daughter wouldn’t budge.
“Kylie fought us tooth and nail,” she said. “She had been a two-step scanner all of her life and was real resistant to change.”
Then she had a two-week trial period with a Tobii Dynavox I-15. Within two days, Kylie knew she wanted one of her own. “She did not want to change and now I think it’s the best decision she ever made,” her mom said. “She does absolutely nothing without it.”
Kylie performs research and quality control duties, finding recipes and giving directions through her I-15 to peers who prepare and package dinners for the faculty and staff.
Most days, Kylie is at school from 7:20 AM to 12:30 PM taking vocational and life skills classes. The highlight is her job with the Dinner’s Ready food service. Kylie performs research and quality control duties, finding recipes and giving directions through her I-15 to peers who prepare and package dinners for the faculty and staff from 20 district schools who buy the take-home meals. The menu centers on a monthly theme such as healthy eating, Mexican or casseroles. Kylie said the best parts of the job are shopping at the grocery store and cooking. She is becoming a pro in the kitchen, where she operates a mixer and a chopper by touching a pad strapped to her leg. The appliances stop when she removes her hand from the pad.
After school, Mom meets Kylie at the bus and makes sure she is comfortable at home before going back to her job at a nearby insurance company. Cameras at the house allow Yvette to keep an eye on her daughter while at work. The environmental control capabilities of the I-15 similarly bring peace of mind. Kylie can be home alone for hours because she can make phone calls, work the lights, watch the Food Network and football games and play the music she likes without having to ask for help. It is easy for her to text, access social media and shop on the internet using the device.
Another reason—actually, two reasons—Kylie feels safe and sound are her protective dogs Mylie and Macie. Mylie is a Morkie (part Maltese, part Yorkshire terrier) and likes jumping onto Kylie’s lap. Macie is all Yorkie.
The youngest of four siblings, Kylie loves when her older brother and sisters come to visit with their children. She also loves being out and about, with her I-15 beside her at favorite restaurants and just about wherever she goes.
One of Kylie’s long-term goals is to run her own assistive technology company. She has the perfect skill set for it, said Marissa Trueblood-Seifert, a STEP special education teacher and case manager. Kylie’s technical savvy is strong. So is her patience in dealing with different personalities and problem-solving. She’s been the go-to person at school when other students need a supportive troubleshooter or a mentor in their own experiences with AAC technology.
“She’s waiting for us to catch up.” Mrs. Trueblood-Seifert. “We just want to keep her around.”
Kylie, meanwhile, offers these words of wisdom on bringing an AAC device into your life. “Choose the right one, the one that’s best for you.”
Use it all the time, she said. “Don’t get frustrated. Relax.”