Give It Up for Jazzy!
There’s fun-loving, there’s energetic and there’s vivacious.
Then there’s Jazzy with a capital J, as many people know Viera, Florida’s own Jazzmin Jeanee Samuel. Named for her parents’ favorite musical genre, her personality snugly fits every adjective mentioned above.
Congratulations are in order for Jazzy on her 2016 graduation from Viera High School as on so many other fronts including her accomplishments as a visual artist, performing artist and a diligent advocate for others with disabilities. It meant so much to don her cap and gown, roll along in her wheelchair and take center stage with her classmates on their big day. Jazzy called Viera “the perfect school to graduate from after a long, challenging educational journey,” applauding her teachers and friends for their support as she worked through her cerebral palsy disabilities to reach that milestone.
Jazzy touched on highlights of her high school years in a recent phone conversation through the Tobii Dynavox I-12 she works with her eyes to communicate. She bubbled with excitement telling how she made the Homecoming court, which led to an iconic moment. On the big night, Caia, the girl voted queen, handed the crown to Jazzy instead.
An active drama club member throughout high school, Jazzy used her communication device for several performances. She recounted the 2016 school production of “Hairspray” where she starred in the opening number and used the I-12 for a speaking part in Act 2 of the musical. Jazzy is contemplating a theater major in college and can’t wait for the day when it is common to see people with disabilities in shows. She finds inspiration in the TV sitcom “Speechless” and its main character JJ, a non-verbal teenage boy with cerebral palsy.
People applaud Jazzy, 19, because she’s, well…Jazzy. One of those people is her brother Byron, almost 21. He attends the University of Central Florida and thinks it would be really cool if Jazzy went there, too. Byron, Jazzy’s favorite companion for rides on her adaptive bicycle, chose a different trio of adjectives when asked to describe his sister. “Sharp, beautiful, refreshing,” he said. “Refreshing as in how it’s always good to see her smile when you approach her. It lights up a room.”
The imaginative art Jazzy creates reflects her effervescence while the I-12 serves as her paintbrush. She devotes a lot of her time to growing her art business. Indeed, it is a labor of love. (Take a peek at Jazzy’s online gallery.)
In the nearly ten years that Jazzy has been using eye-tracking augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology, the I-12 is the best solution she’s known, as her mother Tegdra told us. “On a daily basis,” she wrote in an email, “as we move within our community, go to appointments, or travel, we are approached by people inquiring about the device and how it works.” She wishes more people knew about the technology. So does Jazzy. Sometimes others think the device is a small TV and she takes it as opportunity to educate them.
“My Tobii Dynavox device has opened many doors for me,” Jazzy shared with us. “It removed a lot of frustrations from my life and allowed me to do so many more things.” She means practical things—like checking in with family and friends daily on social media, talking on the phone and completing her schoolwork. “I believe I have learned to use all the programs my device has to offer and I really enjoy using it.”
She’s done some public speaking. “The most rewarding part is being able to show parents and children with cerebral palsy how I use my device so they could hopefully be able to use it someday.”
Jazzy takes pictures and plays video games through the device. It lets her listen to music and play the role of unofficial DJ during her sessions at Ability Plus Therapy so everyone in the room has good tunes to move to. Physical therapist Erin Dinnie DPT, COMT, says Jazzy has excellent taste in music and some fine 80s dance hits in her collection.
But it’s Jazzy’s infectious smile and expressive eyes that captured Mrs. Dinnie’s attention at their first session at the clinic last year. As Jazzy turned to her I-12 and proficiently broke into friendly conversations with those around her, the admiration turned to gratefulness. Thanks in part to the technology, people come to know and love Jazzy more each time she visits, Mrs. Dinnie said. “It amazes me. It amazes everyone else, too. They’re in awe.”
Naturally animated, Jazzy often attempts to vocalize while using her device. She rarely has trouble getting her point across, Mrs. Dinnie said. “It’s not like she doesn’t have a voice. She is smart and witty.” The technology is vital, however, when it comes to clarifying or elaborating on points she wishes to make. A funny line Jazzy utters to her therapist through the device is some variation of “Thanks for hurting me” after a taxing workout. Jazzmin is known for her ability to multitask. She kneels, stretches, plays her tunes and keeps an eye on the happenings in her environment while talking.
“It takes a lot of focus to use the device when there’s a lot going on around you,” said speech-language pathologist Lindsay Wellbrock, M.A., CCC-SLP, who saw that Jazzy’s quick response time and overall ease with the I-12 were in little need of improvement when she began treating her in February 2017 at the clinic. Their sessions have focused on helping Jazzy enunciate vowel sounds so others can understand when she says “no,” yes,” or “yeah” using her natural voice. This also will save Tegdra Samuel from having to interpret when her daughter interacts with unfamiliar communication partners. From the start, Jazzy’s therapists saw that family has a lot to do with her success.
Mrs. Samuel “is very in tune with what Jazzmin needs,” Ms. Wellbrock says.
“She has a lot of love around her,” Mrs. Dinnie said. Jazzy and Byron have two older siblings, and a huge extended family.
Rest assured, Jazzy wants to give that love away. “I love talking with people. I love making people smile.”