“The best part is the ease with which I can express myself. It is great to be able to let people know what I am thinking and feeling. People are really fascinated with the device. It makes me feel good to see how interested they are because I understand how frustrating it can be not to be understood.”
Reaching Out with a New Voice
It’s easy to second the choice of adjectives Justin Birch offers when asked to describe himself in three words.
“Funny, smart and loving.”
And it’s hard to imagine Justin, 32, as anything but, even – perhaps especially – after the misfortune in 2003 that propelled him to major life changes and new ways of talking. Settling into marriage and a nursing job, Justin suffered a brain aneurysm that has strained his mobility and diminished his ability to speak. Through his subsequent divorce and change in career plans, he found the strength to start fresh.
After relocating from Eastern Pennsylvania to Cape Coral, Florida, where he lives with his parents Mary Ellen and Ray, Justin knew family and friends would be there for him through his ups and downs. He immersed himself in hobbies and interests – from swimming and bicycling to poker tournaments and his tropical bird collection – that took him out of himself, and on a path to self-sufficiency. His successful blending of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) into everyday conversations started with sign language, which he learned from his parents, former administrators of a school for women with disabilities including deafness, and his older brother. When Justin realized that many people did not understand signing, he switched to a manual alphabet board that proved tedious to use, then a keyboard-based speech communication device. He preferred the portable DynaVox devices that speech therapist Lucinda Diggs, M.S., CCC-SLP recommended – first the MT4 then the DynaVox V that he now uses – because they offered greater portability, memory and word prediction capabilities. During the transition, Justin taught himself many functions of the dynamic display devices, leaving a lasting impression with his motivation and enthusiasm at finding a solution that fit his lifestyle.
“He made my job much easier,” Diggs said.
The benefits of the V, Justin discovered, extend beyond saving and storing messages of any length to onboard Internet and telephone access capabilities. He talks with strangers and orders beverages on plane trips as easily as he entertains friends with humorous sound bites downloaded to the device and chats with his brother in Pennsylvania by phone while they play “Texas Hold ‘Em” together.
Justin’s new voice shows the world that his spirit remains as caring and light-hearted as ever, perhaps doubly so, says his mom, given the adversity he’s overcome. A natural for his role as a DynaVox Technologies consumer representative, Justin wants to reach others who may benefit from the technology that complements his life.