Consumer Highlight: Stephanie Weatherford

head shot of stephanieI went to the small town of Attica, IN to meet with Stephanie Weatherford to learn about the assistive technology services she received from the assistive technology department at Easterseals Crossroads.

Stephanie and I spent time talking a little about her history and I learned that she was born in Lafayette, Indiana and moved to Attica in the 1980’s. Stephanie was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Cerebral Palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage to the brain most often before or during birth. People with CP can have physical, developmental, and speech disorders. For Stephanie, it affects her physical and speech abilities. Stephanie uses a wheelchair and has since she was a very young girl. She also has some visual problems and needs very large print to read. Stephanie is legally blind and told me that she has cataracts that are progressively getting worse. She is near-sighted in one eye and legally blind in the other.

Stephanie was in special education classes throughout elementary school, but was mainstreamed into the Attica school system in 8th grade. Stephanie graduated from high school in 1990.

After finishing high school, Stephanie worked with a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor to work on her goal of furthering her education. Vocational Rehabilitation is a state agency that assists individuals with disabilities in obtaining or maintain employment. They assisted her in going to the Hadley School for the Blind. Hadley School for the Blind has personalized learning programs for people who have low vision or are blind.

Stephanie then began an internship with The Arc of Tippecanoe County. The Arc of Tippecanoe County is agency that provides services to individuals who have developmental delays. These services include: adult recreation, advocacy, mentoring programs, and social clubs.

For this internship, she needed to be able to use a computer to perform the job duties so she connected with Vocational Rehabilitation again and was referred by them to Easterseals Crossroads for an assistive technology evaluation. An assistive technology evaluation is a one-on-one evaluation to determine what type of technology can maintain or increase the independence of an individual at work, home, or in the community. Stephanie was assigned to work with Belva Smith, Assistive Technology Specialist at Easterseals Crossroads to determine her needs.

Belva met with Stephanie at her home and learned that she had many difficulties using a computer. She learned that with Stephanie’s physical limitations she was unable to use a mouse or keyboard for computer inputStephanie working at her deskand due to her visual impairments she was unable to read what was displayed on the screen. Stephanie also has difficulty with speech so using voice input to control the computer was also very challenging, but was her best option. Belva determined that for Stephanie to use verbal commands to control her computer her best option was to use a computer with Dragon Naturally Speaking software, which is dictation software along with JAWS, which is a screen reader. She also set up JSay, which is software that allows both the voice input and the screen reader to work at the same time.

With Dragon allowing Stephanie to speak to her computer and the software inputting the information she speaks and JAWS reading the information that is on the computer screen aloud to her, she is able to perform her internship duties.

Belva told me, “Using JAWS and Dragon is a very advanced technology. With all of Stephanie’s challenges most people might have said there was no way she could ever use a computer. Stephanie has an amazing attitude and is very determined. She has great family support and with her determination, technology, and family support she is now using a computer which allows her to work at the ARC and continue to seek future employment opportunities.”

As part of her internship duties for the Arc Executive Director, Stephanie writes thank you letters for donations or volunteers work hours someone has given to the agency. She keeps track of the attendance for social events and assists in organizing these events. Some of the events she coordinates are exercise classes, dance classes, bowling outings, the Valentines dance and a prom they host every year. She serves on both the Adult Direct Services committee and the Prom Committee. Stephanie is also an ARC board member as a consumer representative. She serves as a consumer representative to assure “a member’s voice can be heard.”

Stephanie said when she started working with Belva, “I wanted this internship. That was my main goal. Belva helped me get the technology that allowed me to do the internship and she also helped me find ways to do stuff on my own. She helped me learn easier, better ways to use the computer.”

Stephanie is using a Dell laptop with the input and output software mentioned above and a headset to verbally dictate. She spent one month training with Belva and now can use her computer to write emails, use Facebook, and surf the Internet. She works her internship from home 20 hours per week and also goes to The ARC for meetings. She has an aide who assists her with daily activities and her parents are able to drive her anywhere she needs to go in their van that is equipped with a wheelchair lift. Stephanie tells me she also uses Siri to text on her iPhone and really likes her amazon Echo to be able to ask what time it is and what the weather is like outside.

Stephanie is interested in obtaining a paid position now that she is able to use technology so efficiently. She has also been working on a book for a few years. She loves reading and journalism and hopes to complete her book now that she can use a computer more easily. Her book is about her life story. She said, “ I want to hopefully write a story so people don’t make the same mistakes that my team and I have made. I also want to be an inspiration. I would love for people to look at my story and say, “If she can do it, so can I”. I hope that people can learn from the problems I have faced and apply the solutions I have found along the way and help them with their own struggles. I see it as a self-help guide. “

Stephanie said, “I like technology. I like it a lot. It allows me to do things I could never do otherwise on my own. Belva helped me so much. She knew what I needed to know. She understood the whole situation and she knew how to show me what I needed.”

I asked Stephanie if she had an advice for anyone who struggles with technology and she said, “ I would tell people to get out there and research your options. If you can’t figure out how to do something there are people to help. If you can’t do the research ask family, friends, or staff to help you find the resources. Ask for help when you need it. “

We wish Stephanie all the best with future employment goals and the completion of her book! We look forward to reading it!