Today we are pleased to share a piece by a dynamic college Sophomore, Hannah Foley. In this post, she writes about her own personal AAC journey and how it has shaped her career aspirations.
Pinpointing your passions and determining what you want to do for the rest of your life at the age of eighteen is not a simple task for everyone. Most kids are just hoping to finish high school on a strong note, graduate, and move away from their annoying parents. However, my situation is a little different.
My name is Hannah Foley and I have mixed athetoid cerebral palsy. As many people with cerebral palsy do, I use a power wheelchair for mobility. However, there is something unique about me. I use an iPad as my communication device.
Since my disability impacts my gross motor and fine motor skills and also affects my speech, picking a career that I could be successful in but one in which I also was interested was a challenge. Throughout grade school and half of high school, I was very opposed to using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), and even refused to have my communication device mounted to my wheelchair so I could access it whenever I wanted or needed to use it. Then, during my freshman year of high school, I started working with Matthew Baud, who is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and an AAC specialist. Matt quickly noticed my strong opposition to using AAC. He sat me down and asked me why I had such opposition. I explained to him that it makes me feel even more different from my peers than I already am. Matt was very straightforward with me and explained that if I was going to go to college and be a successful member of society, I had to stop relying on an aide or family member to interpret for me. I had no choice other than to use AAC to be independent. I thought long and hard about his words to me.
Then, something clicked one day! I realized that Matt, along with various other people, knew what he was talking about. I allowed my iPad to be mounted on my wheelchair and slowly began using it in social situations and to give presentations for classes. Senior year of high school rolled around and you know what that means….. picking a college and a future career!
Choosing both of those things is no simple task for any eighteen year old. I knew that I wanted to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Although it was going to be very difficult to be admitted, I never gave up on my dream and my family and friends never stopped supporting me. I took the ACT three times and the third time was the charm! I finally got a high enough score to be considered for admission to the university. The next challenge was to select my major.
My mom and I had brainstormed various different career paths in which I was interested. I thought that I would like to pursue a degree in social media marketing for some time, but then…. something changed.
One morning during my senior year of high school, my mom was driving me to school. Instead of thinking about how I was going to tackle my physics test I had first period, I was thinking about what I was going to do after graduation that May and for the rest of my life. On my way to school, I said to my mom, “Mom, I don’t think I want to do social media marketing. I want to be like Matt and help others just like he helped me.”
My mom was very receptive to my desires and was very encouraging. I just think she was excited to know that I had some direction to what I wanted to do with my life, as any parent would be. I decided to apply to the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Decision day for the University of Illinois quickly approached and the next thing I knew, it was here!
On February 5, 2016, I found out that I was admitted to U of I. That was one of the best days of my life. I had just gotten accepted into one of the best institutions in the country. After I let the news settle in, I started thinking about how I could prepare myself for my future career.
I had been a guest speaker for Matt Baud’s AAC class for a few summers, but I wanted more experience. I began reaching out to my resources and I was fortunate enough to be asked to be a mentor to other clients who use AAC at the therapy center that I attended.
Then, my SLP at my high school nominated me for the Infinitec Student Technology Award during my senior year. I had the honor of not only receiving the award, but giving a ten minute speech at the end of the night. This event allowed me to make professional connections with some of the staff from Infinitec. These connections eventually led to an opportunity for me to gain some work experience in the AAC field last summer.
Last summer, I was an intern at Technology & Language Center, Inc., a clinic which serves children and young adults using AAC. During my internship, I worked on a social skills intervention project. For the project, I programmed pragmatic vocabulary for a variety of AAC systems, made PowerPoint and Book Creator social stories, and even acted in video models along with another intern. In addition, I helped facilitate conversation using AAC during speech therapy sessions with clients using AAC. These experiences confirmed to me that this is what I want to do as my future career. I absolutely loved it!
I face challenges each and every day, but I would not want my life any other way. My disability doesn’t define me; it’s simply just part of who I am. My disability has given me so many wonderful experiences and opportunities. I am truly fortunate to have such supportive people in my life who encourage me to be my best self and to strive to reach my dreams. I could not be more excited to see where this journey takes me next and explore the next chapter of my life working in the field of AAC!
Hannah Foley is studying communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, and helping others. She has many aspirations in life, with one of the biggest being an AAC specialist and helping people like herself succeed in all aspects of life.
Jill E Senner, PhD, CCC-SLP