Real World: Finding a Voice


Marshall Hohmann, 15, computer geek, biker, soccer player, has cerebral palsy and speaks with voice technology.


Helping others find their voice in Chat Club, a Bloorview program that brings together children using voice-output devices to boost their comfort and skill communicating in a wide range of situations. Older participants like Marshall (right) mentor younger ones like Keith Qualtrough, 7 (left), who was trying out a voice device for the first time. “They need to know they have a place in this world,” Marshall says.


A community-based program in Durham, in partnership with Grandview Children’s Centre.


An evening every two weeks over a 12-week period.


“Voice technology makes people stop and pay attention to children who don’t speak,” says Marshall’s mother Paula. “It unlocks them as people. Chat Club gives an opportunity for mentors like Marshall to shine and for the younger children to say: ‘I want to do that.’”


Chat Club includes outings such as a cooking class at Loblaws, shopping at the mall and a movie-trivia night. Experienced technology users support younger children learning to use voice devices for the first time. “Younger kids need somebody to push them,”Marshall says. “When the parents see me mentoring they realize ‘wow, maybe my kid can get there too!’”In advance of outings, a communications assistant visits the family at home to program vocabulary that fits the upcoming activity so the child can ask questions and make relevant comments.

The Team:

One speech-language pathologist, two communication assistants, one occupational therapist, one assistive technology consultant and one therapeutic recreation specialist.

“Typically these kids are in a school class where they’re the one-off kid with a voice device. They’re often not valued as having something to contribute. At Chat Club,we wanted the youth who are mentoring younger children to get the message that they’re the experts.”

Gail Teachman, occupational therapist

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