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Giving People with Disabilities a “Voice”

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Professor Cory with Gregory Walsh

He’s the recipient of dozens of awards for military, academic and humanitarian achievements and was honored at the White House by President Ronald Reagan with a Volunteer Action Award. But if you ask University of Massachusetts Dartmouth  Professor  Lester W. Cory to pinpoint the highlight of his career, his answer may surprise you.

“Receiving a thank you from Linda was the biggest thrill. She and others like her have made all the effort worthwhile,” he said. Cory is referring to Linda Texceira, a woman with cerebral palsy whose story touched him and was the catalyst for the SHARE Foundation, a non-profit organization he founded with two colleagues in 1982 and of which he still serves as volunteer CEO.

Linda’s only means of communication was shifting her eye gaze to letters on a Plexiglas board held in front of her eyes by another person. With Professor Philip Viall, Cory designed a computer system that gave Linda a “voice” and the ability to convey her thoughts independently for the first time.

And it was Linda who set Cory on a lifelong path of commitment to help people with disabilities. He recalled, “Early on, I asked Linda what her goals were. She spelled, `I want to do something to help people less fortunate than myself.’ Right then, I knew I needed to give her a voice.”

Over the years, requests poured in for custom-designed systems to assist people with disabilities such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, spinal cord injuries, blindness and a host of other conditions. The Center for Rehabilitation Engineering was established in 1987 on the UMass Dartmouth campus to meet the demand.

Today, the center’s engineers adapt and build equipment to suit the needs and abilities of people who seek their help. Each system i Lou Gehrig’s disease, s controlled by a user-suitable set of switches.  Some are hand or finger operated; others are activated by the raising of an eyebrow or by sipping on a drinking straw.  Some people with spinal cord injuries control their systems by talking to them. Others simply gaze at a control screen.  New systems and ways of controlling them are continuously developed as technology evolves.

The Center’s work extends to aiding people to become more independent in their homes. Thanks to specialized equipment, despite an inability to use their hands, people with disabilities  can control their TV sets, lights and appliances, lock and unlock doors, use their phones and call for help all by blinking, speaking or doing whatever action they do best.

Although the majority of SHARE’s clients reside in Massachusetts, more than 3,000 children and adults in 39 states and eight countries have received equipment and services over the years.

“The Center has changed the lives of many people…,” Cory said. “We once interfaced a Braille display to a closed captioner so a deaf-blind boy could get real-time news from  TV.”

“We were privileged to work with a syndicated columnist who lost the ability to speak and to use his hands because of Lou Gehrig’s disease. As his abilities declined over time, we modified his equipment repeatedly enabling him to continue his writing well past the time anyone thought possible,” he recalled.

Although Cory retired from teaching computer engineering courses in 2007, he remains at the helm of the center and SHARE and oversees fundraising activities and day-to-day operations.

“At the end of the day, I can look back and know that literally thousands of people are enjoying a vastly improved quality of life as a result of our work, saidCory. “I can’t think of anything that could possibly be more rewarding.”


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26 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Alexis – USA said:

    This article was heart touching knowing there are people out there willing to make a difference in someone besides their own life. What I found incredible was “Giving someone a voice.” When Cory mentioned he gave Linda a voice, and that she had to look at the words which allowed her to create a sentence was mind blowing. In comparison, these kind of people who are desired to create technology for the dream of someone else is to be admired. In comparison to a family member of mine, he has the specialized technology mentioned throughout this article. He is able to use his eyes for many things, including gaming which is sensed by the movement of his eyes. Also, when he blinks, it allows others no know what he is thinking. In conclusion, Cory was privileged to work with those who no longer had the ability to speak due to Lou Gehrig’s Disease, however, it’s rewarding to himself, and someone else.

  • Eve - Canada said:

    I liked the article, I thought the subject was poignant, the quotes were interesting – however it left me wanting more. e.g.. a photo of the system the Dr. uses; captions under the photos; better photos that aren’t cropped at the forehead.

    The use of bold is sometimes confusing, there are typos and the leed is buried.

    I would have liked to read some quotes from the families of the patients, to illustrate that these advancements not only significantly increase the quality of life of individual patients, but they give hope to caregivers and loved-ones as well.

  • Diana – Lebanon said:

    This article drew to my attention that this magazine focuses on bringing out the best of people and not just giving them the voice to portray who they really are and what they achieved. My sister has down syndrome and i worked with children who have down syndrome and autism back at home.i have known very inspiring people in this field beginning with my own mother who dedicated her life to providing them with education in a country that did not believe such children had rights.

    This article was very intriguing.Professor Cory is one of the few people who give all they can after living a life of observing how cruel this world could be, what more could anyone want ? I strongly believe that the message this magazine is giving is what the world needs , very few people pay attention to the small details that actually matters and this magazine seems to point it out.

  • Diana – Lebanon said:

    This article drew to my attention that this magazine focuses on bringing out the best of people and not just giving them the voice to portray who they really are and what they achieved. My sister has down syndrome and i worked with children who have down syndrome and autism back at home , i have seen very inspiring stories beginning with my own mother who dedicated her life to providing them with education in a country that did not believe such children had rights.

    This article was very intriguing. Professor Cory is one of the few people who give all they can after living a life of observing how cruel this world could be , what more could anyone want ? I strongly believe that the message this magazine is giving is what the world needs , very few people pay attention to the small details that actually matters and this magazine seems to point it out.

  • Keandre Curry said:

    This is a great article about an extraordinary person. Professor Cory is the perfect example of a guy with integrity. He do things to help people and expect not one ‘thank you’ or appreciation in that matter. When anyone says, ‘I knew right then I had to…’ that says it all: they feel obligated to help people and will take any cost to do so. This article was very informative, but even more inspirational because of Cory and his work.

  • Lyle – California said:

    this is the type of article I like: profiling an individual who has pioneered in a particular area, thought outside the box, and has made an ongoing, everyday difference in the lives of many individuals. I was very impressed with Professor Cory’s “can do” attitude and his recognizing the utility of enabling individuals with disabilities to attempt to make a difference in other’s lives. Professor Cory’s epiphanous moment, that Linda Texceira needed a voice, is a very compelling one. It is empowering to know that the effort to help just one person led to the establishment of an institution which has to date helped more than 3000 people in thirty-nine states and eight countries.

    To me, this is news I can use (to coin a phrase) and parallels experiences I have had with disabled individuals in my life. After reading Professor Cory’s profile, I am inspired that “even” I could translate my efforts to help single individuals into something larger scale and thus create a more lasting impact over the course of time.

  • Kathleen – California said:

    The reason I read this first is because I have a son who is 19 that has a developmental disability called Aspergers’ Syndrome, a form of Autism. I have written many articles regarding this disability, and his personal story and how being a parent, we managed through the issues. I found this story hard to read, it was not to me clear but was concise on facts. Most stories that I appreciate regarding people with disabilities is THEIR story. What they struggle with, make them human and show the clear picture of their lives. This story did nothing for me as far as understanding the daily issues or kept my interest. I admit I stopped reading after the second paragraph, and skimmed the rest. I did not receive whatever message the writer was trying to convey, as it was stiff and factual, with no human component for me.

  • ElLois said:

    I have worked with children and young adults with severe disabilities and only 2 of the children I directly worked with had a tool with which to communicate. Now I know who I might contact in order to learn more about the avenues in which these children can request and obtain tools they so badly need to communicate and make their own needs known.

  • Patricia -- Pennsylvania said:

    The article enables us to understand that people with disabilities have a lot to offer society when they are given the right tools. Someone who is talented in carpentry can be eager, knowledgeable, and willing to build a table. If this person does not have a sander, they may not be successful in accomplishing the task, and might be discouraged from even beginning to build. If a friend gives the carpenter a sander, they are not only given a necessary tool, but they are given encouragement and a window to success.
    In this article, there was a syndicated columnist who needed a communication tool. He was able to continue his writing because Professor Lester Cory aided him in acquiring the proper tools he needed to accomplish the task. Professor Cory and many other people in this world understand that people with disabilities have voices that help to complete our world, and people like Professor Cory enable their voices to be heard!

  • Seth -- New Jersey said:

    I found it very compelling and informative being disabled myself

  • Julia Sibille said:

    Hello. impressive job. I did not imagine this. This is a splendid story. Thanks!

  • Jennifer J -- Canada said:

    I really enjoyed this piece. It combined all the important factors, such as a unique story, facts, great quotes,and relevant background information. It wasn’t lengthy, with an overabundance of ‘filler’, and the style was clean and crisp.
    If I am not interested, I tend to do a quick scan or stop half way through, but this article kept me reading! Also, I not only learned about a remarkable person, but I also discovered a little about the technological advancements that are helping people with various disabilities.
    Thanks for the good read.

  • Steve -- Canada said:

    When Mr. Cory expressed his need to give certain people a voice, it echoed a memory where I spoke publicly on behalf of the senior citizens in our town. It was the beginning of something much bigger for me. Lester has immersed himself in the needs of others, simply by remembering Linda Texciera’s words: “I want to do something to help people less fortunate than myself”. She transposed the stereotype of Cerebral Palsy into a leading force of strength, and she has led this professor since 1982.

  • Jennifer said:

    I read through your website and this article stands out in my mind. For me this article is special because it gives hope to severely handicapped people. Professor Cory’s research and hard work is coupled with an incredible kindness and willingness to help the disabled community. Many people with spinal cord injuries,C.P. etc are often stigmatized by those in society who clearly are ignorant with regards to what people who are handicapped can accomplish. It is great that Prof. Cory has clearly demonstrated there is a whole human being trapped inside a body that doesn’t function due to physical illness. This piece hits close to home for me as my friend’s fourteen year old autistic son is now using a computer to speak-this was just in the last year !!!!! Thank-you professor Cory , SHARE and all involved in helping give the disabled a voice!!!

  • Melissa Q -- Hawaii said:

    i thouroughly enjoyed this article on giving people with disabilities a voice. Mostly due to the fact that as a parent of a hearing disabled child I would love to have some kind of communication with him. I also know several people I run into on a daily basis that have used equipment to help them voice their thoughts and opinions. As i truly believe that everyone who is alive with a heart beating has a god given right to be heard. I am a retired CNA so helping people is something that I truly love to do. I just wish there were a lot more people in this world who understood how someone who lives in a nursing home has the same rights and even more so the same feelings and beliefs as a person who is not disabled or living in a facility. —

  • Cameran -- North Carolina said:

    As a graduate student experienced in the counseling of individuals with chronic illness or disability, I understand the pivital role assistive technology may play in a person’s life. As an injured Army veteran, I have experienced first hand the pervasive impact chronic illness has on every facet of life. For many individuals the diminished capacity for verbal communication and independant mobility is emotionally taxing, significantly altering quality of life. The introduction and utilization of assistive technology offers a marked increase of personal freedom, facilitating a newfound ability to operate successfully in both community and workplace settings. It is truly disheartening to observe the depths to which a consumer may benefit from communication or mobility aids, yet not be offerred these options due to monetary concerns. Because of this, it is my opinion a primary focus of case management interventions must be seeking the means to provide such significant options for treatment.

  • Amanda M -- Massachusetts said:

    I like the tone of this piece and the warm-hearted nature of people taking the time to assist persons with disabilities. I had a family member who developed ALS and some of the products mentioned in the article are similar to those which made it possible for our communication lines to remain open longer. I thoroughly enjoyed the inspirational feel of this and other articles.

  • marianne from Hawaii said:

    I liked this story Giving People with Disabilities a “Voice”. It was short and sweet and championed the underdog. It was all about why we are all here, love.

    Mahalo

  • Angie said:

    I’m very appreciative that your magazine covers stories like these.
    They are truly one of a kind! I loved how the writer grasped the relationship between Cory and Linda. It was truly an amazing story of how everything was started and still continues today! My favorite part was when Cory asked Linda what her goals were in life and her response was simply remarkable! She responded with “I want to do something to help people less fortunate than myself.” It is incredible what Cory and The Center for Rehabilitation Engineering are doing for people with disabilities that can’t speak for themselves. It is one thing to know you have a disability but it’s another thing to feel truly handicapped. By doing it this way, people like Linda and so many others are able to lead normal lives without feeling helpless. I hope others will follow in Cory’s footsteps and make things easier for those with special needs! I very much enjoyed this article and I’m very appreciative that you are doing this.

  • Mark R-- New Mexico said:

    This article is very heartwarming and well-written. The written profile of the man in the article is done well, and really highlights the best things about him. Have a fantastic afternoon. :D

  • Don d -- Washington said:

    I liked the articles’ title and lead. Right away they hooked me. I guess it caught my attention because I was involved with ABLE, the advocacy group for students with disabilities on the Central Washington Universitys’ campus. I am friends with the president who is blind and in order to do computer work he uses a program called JAWS , which recites what is on the computer screen so he can respond to it as he sees fit. So I know the importance of having access to programs like the one in the article.

  • courtney -- Massachusetts said:

    I liked this article. I thought the soft lead was very nice and the quote that followed regarding the highlight of Corey’s career was well placed. I thought the article did well touching on the main influences Corey’s passion and dedication have had towards making great strides in the world of people with disabilities.

  • SP -- Connecticut said:

    I was especially drawn to this article as I have several family members with disabilities, including my mother, who is wheelchair-bound as the result of progressive multiple sclerosis. I found the article not only inspiring (as did she) but informative as well (I may even consider contacting the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering for my the reasons I mentioned above). Overall, I am glad this magazine doesn’t just publish the typical “human interest” stories but provides valuable information for readers who may also want to benefit their own lives or the lives of their loved ones.

  • Jeremy -- California said:

    One of the things that I really enjoyed about this article is the use of direct quotes from Professor Corey. It is easy to see that spending time with this man was probably very emotional considering he spent his professional life working to help those less fortunate then him. Because of this I would think that what he has to say about the people he helps and how he helps them is the best way to tell his story. Also I enjoyed how the writer didn’t try to take over the article with thoughts or opinions on this because the truth is the story is about Corey. I would like to have heard more about his experience over the years, the good and the bad so that as a reader I can kind of place myself in his shoes and determine how difficult it would be to do what he does. An example of this is towards the end of the article when Corey references the writer who lost the ability to speak and write with his hands but was able through the use of Corey’s equipment to continue writing. I would have liked some more details about these types of experiences.

    I really think that recognizing people who go above and beyond the normal calling in life is a great thing and is something that needs to happen more often. My mother spent years upon years giving up large chunks of her time to spend time with and help a women named Elane from our church. Elane suffered from late stage parkinsons and had difficulty doing every day things like getting dressed and feeding herself. My mother welcomed her into our home and gave up job opportunities so that she could be there for Elane. Since then I have always believed that some people on Earth have an extra gene that tells them to put all others in front of their own happiness. These people need to be noticed and it looks like that is what you are trying to do so I would like to commend you.

  • shelley said:

    I liked hearing how the disabled were helped by giving them a voice.

  • Phyllis said:

    Informative, inspirational and well-written article. The general public needs more “feel good” stories like this to counter all the negative news.

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