Giving the Non-Verbal a Voice

Just because a person is non-verbal doesn’t mean he or she is without the need to communicate. Like everyone else, maybe more than everyone else, the non-verbal need to voice their wants, needs, and emotions.

But how?

At an Ohio respite home for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, staff recognized the need to solve that problem, and the Lions of District 13 OH1 stepped up to help them do it. They communicated amongst themselves and with other local community groups and raised the funds to get the technology that the cottage so desperately needed.

Kaitlyn’s Cottage in Defiance, Ohio, is a non-profit respite care provider serving more than 20 rural counties in four states. Disabled individuals of all ages can stay there from one night to a week to meet friends and experience life in a fun and safe environment. Meanwhile, their caregivers and family can take time for themselves and do the things that may be overwhelming while providing care.

Kaitlyn’s Cottage was built in 2012 on the grounds of ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital by Dan and Sharon Farrell who wanted to create a place for their granddaughter, Kaitlyn, who has communicative disabilities and is non-verbal. Cottage staff soon realized how the need to communicate actually intensifies in individuals like Kaitlyn, and they wanted to help her have a “voice.”

When Lion Rod Martin, a friend of the Farrells, heard about the situation he recalled a story he read about a former National Football League player with ALS who uses an eye tracker to communicate. The computer allows the user to “speak” their wants and needs, controlling it with their eyes instead of a keyboard or mouse.

Martin, a 50-year Lion, was impressed by what he saw and not afraid of the US$20,000 price tag for the interactive technology that includes the Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker. If anyone could raise the funds, he knew Lions could, he says. And so he and his wife, Mary, spent three months fundraising.

Martin reached out to his club and the Wauseon and Bryan Lions Clubs in the area, plus other community organizations like the Rotary, Moose, Eagles, Elks, and VFW.

“It was so neat because all of our clubs went together so nicely. Everyone jumped right on it and we were able to raise the US$10,000 in a very short period of time,” says Martin.

Halfway to their goal, Martin also learned of grants available through LCIF, and in May the Lions of District 13 OH1 were awarded a matching US$10,000 LCIF-Anthem Foundation “Healthy Heroes Grant” designed for projects that help those with disabilities.

“The equipment is in place and amazing,” says Martin. “These people have problems we don’t have. We’re fortunate, and anything we can do to help them is right in my eyes.”