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Out with the old, in with the new

Teen holds life-changing technology in her hand

March 10, 2012
By Brad Johnson - Senior Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

The use a local young woman has made of her iPhone is a vivid example of how new technology is literally putting the future in our hands.

Emily DeMotto of Elkins is a vibrant, happy 19-year-old who leads a full, active life despite suffering from cerebral palsy. As a child she communicated through sign language, but her motor disabilities limited her range of expression.

In 1998, with the help of supportive friends and local businesses, her family purchased a communication device to "speak" for her at a cost of $12,000. Today, she receives essentially the same services from a $1.99 app downloaded to her consumer grade iPhone.

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Submitted photo
Emily DeMotto uses a simple app on her iPhone to communicate with other people.

"All she has to do is type in what she wants to say, tap 'speak' and it talks for her," Emily's mother, Cindy DeMotto, said this week. "The iPhone is small and she can carry it with her so much easier than she could the communication devices, which were big and bulky and had to be programmed.

"She came home from school one day all excited because she didn't have to use her communication device anymore," Cindy DeMotto said. "She said she could use her iPhone to talk at school now and that maybe another child could use the communication devices she used to have to use. She was so happy!"

Emily's story has always been a remarkable one.

When she was born in 1992, "at that time my only resource in gathering information (about cerebral palsy) was the public library," Cindy DeMotto said. "I would go every week and drag books home trying to educate myself on this disability."

Emily broke new ground as a student. "The Randolph County school system has been great," Cindy DeMotto said. "Emily was the first student with a disability of this magnitude to be mainstreamed (in Randolph County). With the help of an aide, she is able to attend classes with her friends.

"Her teachers have always told me what a pleasure it is to have her in class," she added. "I think it has been a great experience for her peers as well. She has made many great friends."

The first communication device purchased for Emily when she was 5 years old was a Pegasus Lite.

"It was considered top of the line at the time," said Cindy DeMotto. "Her father, Hughie DeMotto, and I, with the amazing support of this community, did fundraisers to pay for it."

Their insurance company would not pay for the $12,000 device, instead offering to buy a device that cost about $200, she said.

"Over time Emily outgrew it and used a couple other devices," Cindy DeMotto said. "The worst part was they were all so big and bulky and had to be programmed. Donna Simmons was Emily's elementary school teacher and would take the communication device home and program it. The Pegasus Co. was so impressed with all that was programmed into Emily's device they asked to copyright it."

Emily grew up with a passion for WVU basketball, and learned to swim and ride a horse.

"She has so much heart and enthusiasm," he mother said. "Everybody knows Emily - she has friends everywhere she goes. She's a special girl."

Emily's iPhone has greatly improved her quality of life, Cindy DeMotto said.

"Emily has gained a great sense of independence by using her iPhone," she said. "She takes it with her everywhere she goes. If we are in a store and she wants to shop on her own I am able to let her now. She can text me and tell me where she is so we can meet back up."

Emily also enjoys texting and emailing her many friends using her phone.

"Facebook has been another great opportunity for her to be able to communicate," her mother said. "I notice her fine motor skills are improving due to using the iPhone. She has to concentrate really hard to type the correct letters, giving her plenty of practice.

"Her occupational therapist, physical therapist and speech therapist all do a lot of her therapy activities based around the iPhone," she said.

"She just loves life, and loves other people," Cindy DeMotto said. "Having these new opportunities to communicate with people has just been a real blessing."



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