Project Vive has been a labor of love.
These children had limited control of their bodies and were only able to communicate by others guessing their emotions and asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.
At the orphanage, there was only one communication board for the entire group to use. I worked with one of the young men to teach him how to use the board. Over a month, he was able to pick up how to use the tool and had some of the most complex communication in his life. Then, the tool broke, with no hope to fix it. This man had the opportunity to speak, but lost that ability because the technology couldn’t easily be fixed.
It was this moment that hit me the hardest. The children I spent every day with were coherent thinkers and wanted to communicate, but they couldn’t speak without great difficulty and immense patience on the part of both the child and caregiver. It’s hard for us to think of a life where we are not able to say what we’re thinking or how we’re feeling. Furthermore, people who are unable to communicate have a hard time integrating into the community and contributing thoughts, wants, and feelings to the people around them. I knew then that I wanted to devote myself to finding a way to improve the lives of the Ecuadorian kids I met, and all those with non-verbal disabilities.
Over the last five years, I have been working to make a solution that was not only easy for the user and the caregiver, but that was affordable and customizable based on the controllable movements of the user. The Voz Box is the patented end product of this five-year journey.
The Penn State community has been one of the most inviting and helpful networks. The faculty and staff have been with us every step of the way. They connected us to patent lawyers, pointed to opportunities for funding, gave space to work, mentored us and provided lots of cheerleading along the way. We were provided space in Happy Valley Launchbox, have been funded by the Summer Founder Program & Inc. U and have been championed by the Invent Penn State Initiative.
Our “Journey to 10 Voices” Indiegogo campaign is the culmination of the last five years, especially the hard work myself and the team have put in since I was able to go full-time post graduation. Our first device user, Arlyn, has been using her Voz Box since August 2016. With her device, she has been able to share her poetry with two live audiences. This fundraising campaign will enable us to give fully customized Voz Boxes to 10 people and get us a step closer to bringing the product fully to market.
Also, during this campaign, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Dublin, Ireland to participate in the The ALS Association's Assistive Technology Challenge, which takes place today. I am so excited to collaborate and learn alongside the other four amazing teams as well as some of the top doctors and researchers in the ALS field.