Barbara Olson Center to give voice to disabled people through new technology


The Barbara Olson Center of Hope hopes to bridge the communication gap with the developmentally disabled with new technology, thanks to a $10,000 grant.

Saying the words “I’m hungry” might be taken for granted by the average person, but for Emily, who uses the services provided by the Barbara Olson Center, Tuesday marked one of the first times in her life that she’s been able to communicate directly what she wants, with the help of a new device.

Thanks to a nearly $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, the center was able to purchase new iPads and computers which contain software that can help give a voice to those who can’t speak.

“It seemed to work out well, because we need all different types of equipment for our participants, so we took an inventory and go from there,” said Director of Development Tom Lasley.

Kelly Peterson works with adults who have communication and developmental issues and says the new iPads are crucial tools.

“For somebody that doesn’t know them, they might not be able to communicate their thoughts and feeling and wants and needs, where with the communication apps that we use, they just have to push a button and it speaks for them,” she said. “So, they might know what they want to say, they’re just not capable of saying it.”

The technology not only gives the members a voice, but also gives them a way to be creative by drawing or taking pictures. Mostly, the devices are seen as a way to help give them some of their independence back.

“By using a tool like this, they might be able to go out into the community and maybe place an order at a restaurant, more independently, where they might not have been able to do that before, because they didn’t have the tools in order to do that,” Peterson said.

Even with the $10,000 grant, the Center says it is not able to give every member their own iPad yet.

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