“God bless Texas,” is what my fiance coached me to say on the days leading to my big Dallas trip. That, and, “I don’t care what anyone says, but Tony Romo is a good quarterback.” All very amusing Texas tropes that would only fall short of the actual beauty and distinction I found during my time in the great Lone Star State.
In just a few days, I was traveling to a state I’ve never been in to perform a job I’ve never done. And in just the few days prior, I was being crash course tested for a company that had just hired me a little over a month ago. I did not know what to expect, and even less know what to do. I thought to myself, “I’m only a psychology major, what am I doing here?!” But as the hours approached to the time of my flight, I had to believe in myself if only a little bit as a software company like LC Technologies had invested so much belief in me.
Before we get to the events that happened in Texas, let me first provide you with a brief backstory as to how I even got here. Flashback to June of 2017 at the Annual SMA Conference in Disney World, my partner and I were exploring the exhibitor booths at the conference. Among these, was one that my fiance said we should look at. I, unaware of what was in store, agreed to visit a vendor I would have otherwise overlooked if not for the helpful suggestion from Paul. Upon discovering the existence of a device that would change my life in more than one way, I came to learn of this:
The Eyegaze Edge.
Fast-forward a few months and I was already looking into acquiring my own Eyegaze device, using the tablet with exceptional skill, and being scheduled for TV appearances on behalf of the company to bring it awareness. Sounds pretty cool, right? Wait until I tell you all the fulfilling things that occurred in just a four day trip.
Due to the nature of my condition, when I travel I cannot pack most things ahead of time since I will always require my medical equipment right before the moments leading to departure. So, that night, accompanied by both my ever loyal (yet totally insane) nurse Yulia and unconditionally loving fiance, we scrambled in the late hours to get everything ready by the time we had to leave the house successfully while also dropping off my vehicle at my mom’s and arriving at the airport with ample time. After dealing with overweight bags (due to all my chargers and ventilator supplies) and the reliably incompetent TSA employees, we made it through the gate on time to await the plane at 5 am. Then, after boarding a highly inexperienced flight with Spirit, I was as comfortable as I could (which wasn’t very comfortable at all) and on my way to Texas.
*insert heavy country accent here*
We arrived promptly to never before seen of lush trees and wide open spaces. In fact, said spaces were so wide, we landed on a highway! An impressive view for me, being the overcrowded city girl that I am. We tried to quickly disembark and head towards our destination of the Hilton Anatole. Thankfully, we were pointed in the right direction and boarded a shuttle which lead us to the train and consequently would cross Dallas to drop us off at the conference hotel.
Finally, after what seemed to be an endless marathon through dessert-like temperatures, we arrived at overwhelmingly large hotel. Once registered and settled in, I crashed for a much needed nap. That evening, however, I got back up and prepared myself mentally for the work that needed to be done tomorrow. This was my first Eyegaze ambassador appearance, and you know what they say…
First impressions count.
It was Friday morning. I was up and ready in my Eyegaze polo, determined to impact some lives and educate those who may not know all of the resources available. Families started rolling in (literally). None of them really knew what the Eyegaze did; but that’s where I come in. The first family I spoke to had a non-verbal little girl of no more than 8 years old lying vertically positioned in her wheelchair. “This was perfect for her,” I began to realize. I fumbled a bit at first to adequately explain the Eyegaze’s functions, but I swiftly had both the child and her parents doing a demo so that they could see for themselves. Her parents in awe, saw this as their sweet daughter’s opportunity for expression and communication, both of which are often taken away by the consequences of having SMA.
I was beginning to get the hang of it.
That morning I had spoken to more than a handful of families and individuals interested in assistive technology for communication. Everyone that approached me that day was a world of their own with widely different needs and abilities. But still, the Eyegaze steadily remained an object of desire by all who wished to acquire or regain the ability to express themselves. We often times take it for granted the ability to speak, joke, sing, complain, debate, or even ask help with scratching one’s back — yet with the Eyegaze the user can do all of these things and more with just the gaze of one eye.
A perfect example of this was presented to me when I attended round-table for adults with SMA. A young woman there expressed the need for a communication device that would help her speech as it had been degenerating over time and it was negatively affecting her confidence in her dating life. She explained facing anxiety and discomfort with talking to guys as her voice was garbled and was not clearly understood by others. Again, this was another circumstance in which I stepped in to sing the praises of the Eyegaze and its limitless capabilities.
The rest of my weekend continued on at a similar pace where I extended my help not only during my time at the booth, but also to all that cared to strike up a conversation with me, or in many cases, compliment my shoes.
The following day, was my turn to shine once more on the exhibition floor as the first ever Eyegaze spokesperson only this time with a more confirmed sense of duty. I was supposed to be here not to sell computers or to dazzle anyone with high-tech talk, I was just here to lead by example. By Saturday afternoon I had already talked to people from Ohio, Argentina, Oklahoma, from ages 2 to who knows how much, with SMA and not with SMA, and medical professionals to first-time conference attendees. By this time, I had loss track of just how many individuals I spoke to. By this time, I had just hoped to have done a good job.
To this day, it still feels surreal to me that just one year ago I was on the other side of the table, and now the tables have turned. I was once in the position of needing help, to now being able to give help. My only hope is that I can return at least half of the impact Eyegaze has personally had on me to others now in my place. I strive to continue my work as Eyegaze ambassador to further educate, raise awareness, and assist those who have fallen silent to the inability to communicate. I hope that through m me Eyegaze can help break the barriers in today’s society so that we may achieve inclusion for all.
With all my love,
Thank you to all that have taken the time to read my first blog post on my official website, it is my sincerest wish that you continue to join me on this journey. Until next time.