Last September I had the pleasure of attending Closing the Gap as a representative and exhibitor of Cadan Assistive Technologies. This was my first conference with CAT and I was so excited to experience every possible facet of what a conference would entail.

Jim and I quickly set up our booth and socialized with other vendors in anticipation of the conference attendee’s arrival. As my first year participating, I made it a point to try to observe, help and learn as much as possible.

Before we knew it, it was time for the attendees to arrive. People quickly filtered into the conference hall, many stopping by our booth to get a stamp on their scavenger hunt sheet. Others, just to see what CAT had to offer.

One of the attendees that I met that first night was a woman named Jordyn Zimmerman. I introduced myself to Jordyn, shook her hand, and asked her if she was enjoying meeting everyone and the conference so far. She made some eye contact with me while I was speaking but I noticed she was also often looking down at her iPad. I thought to myself “I wonder why she keeps looking down, am I not interesting?”. Then, before I knew it, Jordyn’s iPad speaks the following message: “It is nice to meet you, I am here from Ohio presenting tomorrow”.  I then looked backed down at her iPad and realized she was using her iPad as a communication device!! This typical iPad in a pink case was actually Jordyn’s voice and means of communication! Suddenly it was much more than just a tablet.

I then asked Jordyn if she could give me a synopsis of her upcoming conference presentation since I wasn’t able to attend. She obliged and told me the following (note: I am paraphrasing)

“My name is Jordyn and by the time I was 18 I was passed through 6 different schools, each believing my behavior was too much to handle. I have nonverbal autism with sensory processing disorder. I am only able to speak a few words verbally so, I rely heavily on alternative forms of communication.
For much of my life growing up, I would become frustrated. Educators often treated me like I was stupid, like I didn’t understand what was going on around me. They treated me like I was incapable of learning, and would often times have me perform tasks that were much lower than my abilities, educationally and functionally. They wanted me to communicate in a way that was either to frustrating or difficult for me. My only way to show my frustration was by displaying behaviors that were not acceptable to the classrooms I was in.  Often times these educators did not take the time to realize that these behaviors I was exhibiting were a form of communication. That was all until I was 18. When I was 18 a woman named Christy LaPaglia (the director of  CARES ) introduced me to an Assistive and Augmented Communication (AAC). This device allows me to type words into my iPad using an app called Proloquo2Go. I was finally able to voice my opinion, answer questions in full sentences, and prove to the world that I was more than just my autism. This device helped people realize that I could do more than just touch my nose and do simple tasks for candy.   Thanks to my determination, I was able to do

Something that I was told I would never do: Graduate from high school!  I am currently a student at Ohio University set to graduate in 2020.”

Jordyn changed my life the day I met her. She confirmed my belief that a diagnosis is just part of who people are, not their entire identity. The brief but meaningful interaction with Jordyn also confirmed and proved that assistive technology is something that can change student’s lives.  Every person deserved the basic human right of communication. I am SO glad that Jordyn was given hers.

To find out more about Jordyn please see the following links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWHeS9mKQIQ&t=205s

https://hechingerreport.org/student-voice-told-id-never-go-college-just-finished-freshman-year-students-autism/