PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was a different kind of school visit for Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney. With the help of technology, the mayor communicated with students at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy in the University City.
The science of communication is giving voices to students who can’t speak. The sophisticated technology now enables people with physical disabilities to express themselves like never before.
Special talking computers helped the students at the HMS School ask the mayor questions.
The kids wanted to know about the mayor’s favorite sports team and using their computers they were able to voice the questions out loud.
“I’m a big Flyers fan, a big hockey fan, I love hockey,” Kenney told the students.
Besides taking questions, Mayor Kenney was a guest reader at the school for students with physical disabilities. Most of the students have cerebral palsy.
“They’re part of the fabric of our Philadelphia society just as anybody else,” said Mayor Kenney. And now new technology allows the students to communicate more easily.
One of the students, Shannon enjoys asking people if they like Facebook.
For these students who can’t move, the eye-gaze technology gives them a way to communicate by just staring at certain places on a computer screen. By looking at the icon key for rainy weather a student computer voice will allow them to say that it’s rainy outside.
Dawn Rainey who works with the children on their computer voices is an assistive technologist at the school.
She calls the technology a breakthrough for her students.
“Our students have limited physical capabilities as they really are dependent on technology and advancements in technology to control how they interact with the entire world around them,” said Rainey.
Sixteen year old Shannon uses the new voice I-D technology. “Today after school, I am getting my hair cut,” she said.
Instead of a robotic voice certain sounds she makes are used to create a voice that is similar to her voice.
“It gives them their own voice, their own unique identity,” says Rainey.
In addition to special education for students up to the age of 21 the HMS School also provides a wide vareity of therapies with the goal of getting the students to be as independent as possible and connected to their community.