With golden hair and mesmerizing hazel eyes, Grant Gealy is not your typical ten-year-old boy. First, he’s on the fifth-grade honor roll. Second, he writes moving and sophisticated poetry. Third, he has a terrible condition: cerebral palsy caused by a birth injury, which left him with little control of his body movements. He has difficulty speaking, and others must strain to understand him. He’ll be in a wheelchair for life.
Nonetheless, life is good for Grant Gealy. His parents saw to that. His mother, Beverly Mason, assembled a team of helpers configured around today’s newest assistive learning technology, the Kurzweil Reader. This computer program enables learning disabled and physically challenged children and adults to read and write. “He does not have a single learning disability,” Beverly says of Grant. “He has a movement disorder that makes it impossible to read, write, or speak without assistance.”
Grant is a student at Regis, a private Catholic school in Houston that enthusiastically welcomed him at age 3 — excited about the opportunity to help carry out his mother’s educational plan. Grant attends regular classes with his full-time language specialist, Mendie Elliott, and with his assistant, Janet Head, who helps him use the bathroom, washes his hands, feeds him, and meets other physical needs.
At the hub of this team is a computer program made by Kurzweil. The program scans his books and displays the pages on a computer screen. Depending on whether or not a user can hold his head still enough to read, the program can make the text larger and easier to focus on. If need be, it will read the text to him.
Grant can even take tests on his computer. If there are questions at the end of a chapter, he controls the cursor by a magnetic dot placed on his forehead. The process is arduous. Even answering multiple-choice questions is painfully slow. Grant looks exhausted after completing two questions. One can only imagine the difficulty of using the keyboard to write an essay. However, he has the option of dictating into the computer, which writes and formats his words.
Says Beverly, “Kurzweil levels the playing field for some things. It also enables the teacher to see how smart he really is.”
“It’s easy to use,” says Grant. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work it. It’s flexible. I can use other programs with it.” He says the program’s most important function has been to help him identify and acquire vocabulary words.
Before the Kurzweil system came along, Grant would sit in class, unable to respond to questions or read. His teacher finally approached Beverly and said, “This isn’t working. I have no way of knowing whether he is learning anything. He’s got to be able to put out information. He’s got to write.”
Desperate, Beverly and Mendie searched for an assistive learning program that could help him accomplish what the teacher wanted. They tried the Kurzweil system and were pleased with its ease of use. Grant made great progress in a short period of time.
“Kurzweil is not all we do,” says Beverly. “It’s part of a plan we designed.” That plan includes modifications in homework and writing assignments, along with dedicated assistants who keep the plan in place.
Says Beverly, “When I found Kurzweil, it was the key that opened the world to him.”
This article appears in the Winter issue of ADDitude.
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