One of the jobs I had in the past that I loved was at a non-profit organization called Bridgepoint. Bridgepoint provided a wide group of services for people with disabilities. Everything from physical therapy, occupational therapy, job training, and a whole host of other things that were to help folks who had disabilities to enjoy and be a working part of society.
My role at this fabulous establishment was to write their stories. I would write, take pictures and publish them in a newsletter that went out to local residents in the area. This is how I met Ginger.
Ginger was 42 years old and had severe cerebral palsy that she had had since birth. All limbs effected. Her mother and father had taken care of Ginger all those years.
I was asked to be in the room when Ginger received her first speaking board. A speaking board is a board that is automated with pictures on it. For example if the person using the board wanted a drink there would be a picture of a glass of water and when the person pushed the picture a voice would say, "I would like a drink."
Communication, something most people take for granted. The ability to say what we want, and how we feel. Ginger had never been able to speak. In fact she had never been able to fully articulate anything to anyone with a voice. The only movement that Ginger could control was on one hand with her pointer finger. This made her a perfect candidate for a speaking board.
As I made my way down the hallway to the Speech Therapist office I wondered what it the world was this woman who had been trapped in a body that would not conform to her wishes for 42 years would want to say. Would she be angry at all those years locked in a prison of her own body? Would she be demanding? I gently knocked on the door. Kim our speech therapist opened the door and introduced me to Ginger's parents. Diane was a sweet woman with gray fuzzy hair, and thick glasses. She wore a flowered top and jeans with sneakers. She smiled and said, "Nice to meet you!" Ginger's father was seated with a John Deer hat on with bib overall's and dark glasses the kind that change color depending on whether they are outside or in. He got up shook my hand and sat back down and began to nervously fiddle with his hands. In the center of the room was a wheelchair. Pale with reddish brown hair and a smile that would light up a Christmas tree sat Ginger.
Diane spoke to Ginger and said, "Oh honey are you excited?" Ginger smiled bigger.
Kim went through some instructions on how the board operated. Then she looked at us all and said, "Don't be surprised if at first what Ginger says doesn't seem to make sense. This is all new to her and it will take time for her to learn how to maneuver this new instrument."
I found myself holding my breath. The whole room went silent. Kim placed the speaking board in Ginger's lap and asked her, Ok Ginger, here it is.
Ginger concentrated and squinted her eyes to see the board. She stuck her tongue out in concentration. Her index finger raised and hit the "I" button. The board sounded I. Ginger pulled her finger back and aimed again. The next word was "love". The board sounded love. Ginger began to cry. And with fierce determination she hit the word Mom, and quickly pulled back and hit the word Dad.
Ginger's first sentence with her speaking board. Her first words in 42 years were I love mom, and dad.
There was not a dry eye in that little room. As her mother was crying she began to say "I knew it. I knew she was in there. All those people telling me all those years that she couldn't understand. That she was dumb, but I knew I knew she was in there all along. I love you too baby."
How often do we take communication for granted? Who in your life needs to hear that they are loved? Ginger waited 42 years to say those words. We can say them but choose not to. How sad is that?