Gift of Speech: Students, Staff Rally to Raise Money for Ipad to Assist Special Needs Student

Sanchez shows off his new iPad along with Special education Coach ainsley taylor (left) and occupational therapist diane Blengs (right).

Many might consider the wave of iPads and tablets to be just another gadget that’s good for helping to waste time or surfing the Internet.

But for Carlos ‘Carlito’ Sanchez, an iPad means a new kind of freedom.

Born with Cerebral Palsy that severely hampers his ability to speak, Sanchez often has trouble telling people what he wants or they have a hard time understanding him. While his mind is sharp as a tack, he is not always able to express what he wants to say.

It has been a frustration that he has carried from school to home to the mall and even to Dunkin’ Donuts.

“It’s very difficult for me to communicate, for people to understand my English,” he said last Friday in an interview at Chelsea High School (CHS). “It’s especially hard when I go places outside of school. If I go to the mall or to Dunkin’ Donuts, people don’t understand what I’m saying or what I want.”

Sanchez came to Chelsea High School (CHS) three years ago from Honduras. It was a difficult transition for him, but gradually, he found a home in the special education department and soon became very popular throughout the school too.

This year, though, he has reached the maximum age of 21 and will have to transition to life outside of CHS. His teachers and his occupational therapist felt it was going to be another difficult task, and they wanted to equip him with an iPad so he wasn’t leaving empty handed.

The barrier was that it cost more than $800.

Special Education Coach Ainsley Taylor and Occupational Therapist Diane Blengs said they set out to raise the money and thought it would take a couple of months.

Try six days.

Through a grant from Eastern Bank, a bake sale at CHS and the generosity of his fellow students, Sanchez was able to get the device – preloaded with communication software especially designed for those with Cerebral Palsy – and put it to use for the first time last week.

As he pushed a donut icon on the touch-screen iPad, the device blurted out, “I would like a glazed donut with no icing please.”

He laughed heartily, “That’s my favorite.”

The iPad also has other helpful things on it like Sanchez’s address and also his favorite foods from the menu of this favorite Colombian restaurant in East Boston.

There are hundreds of push-button options for him to use so that people on the outside can completely understand him no matter where he goes.

iPads are quickly becoming the preferred device for those with physical handicaps or problems with communication.

Blengs said it is the way that the Chelsea schools are going with special education, and it is also what many others are looking into.

“We got an outside evaluation from the Easter Seals for Carlos because they are experts in this sort of thing,” she said. “This is what they suggested…We are looking at getting iPads for a lot more students, not just for communication, but also for fine-motor skills and for memory and for word processing. There are a lot of education apps created for the iPad and more are coming out every day. It’s the way we’re going and Carlos was the first one.”

Taylor said the school wanted to raise private money for Carlos’s iPad so he could take it with him in June when he leaves the schools. That’s why it was imperative to raise the money and not pay for it out of a school budget.

For her, she said that the fundraising was very moving – that the entire school came together so quickly to support another student.

“One teacher gave us a big anonymous donation and said Carlos had been a really big reason why she continued to come to school each day,” said Taylor. “She said she has had a really tough year and has been sick a lot, but always felt that if Carlos could make it to school every day, so could she. These are the stories that show us so much. This showed me just how great the school community here can be. I knew everyone loved Carlos and that the students cared about our students, but to raise that money so quickly said something more to me.”

For Sanchez, not only was he grateful, but he was liberated in a way that couldn’t be explained on the iPad – but could be conveyed in his own words.

“This is going to help me so much so people can understand me all the time,” he said. “When somebody didn’t understand me, I used to just get out of there. Now, if someone doesn’t understand me, I can just say, ‘Give me a second,’ and then I’ll just get my iPad out. No more running away.”

Cutlines –

Carlos ‘Carlito’ Sanchez gets accustomed to his new iPad that was purchased through donations from students and staff at CHS. Sanchez, who has Cerebral Palsy and has trouble speaking, said the new device will set him free when he leaves school this June.

Sanchez shows off his new iPad along with Special Education Coach Ainsley Taylor (left) and Occupational Therapist Diane Blengs (right).

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