Nicole, Mrs. Katz, Dr. Zobel-Lachiusa, Aly Bruneault, Amber Curry
Ms. Nicole Jeronimo, a 2013 Ludlow High School Graduate, received an invitation from Dr. Jeanne Zobel-Lachiusa, EdD, OTR/L, Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at Bay Path University and former OTR/L in the Ludlow Public Schools, to share her journey using assistive technology to support her independence, with current 2nd year students enrolled in the Master of Occupational Therapy Program.
Jeronimo explained that she welcomes the opportunity to share her journey so others can better understand and support people who require assistance to achieve independence. In September she was also invited to Springfield Technical Community College to speak to students about individuals with disabilities; sharing information about her disability, how it affects her life, and what is medically necessary. Said Jeronimo, “I really liked educating the students about my disability and my medical needs.”
In preparation for the Bay Path visit Jeronimo created a slide presentation to demonstrate the different technologies she currently uses, and had previously used, when in school. “I think the students enjoyed the presentation,” shared Jeronimo. “They learned a lot of information like when I first started using technology, how I learned using technology while I was going to school and how I’m learning to use new technology throughout my day to day life now.”
Mrs. Donna Katz, Ludlow Public Schools OTR/L, assisted with the presentation by providing a history of the technologies that Jeronimo used while enrolled as a student in the Ludlow Public Schools. Katz explained that she worked with Jeronimo from the time she entered preschool until her graduation from Ludlow High School in 2013.
"Nicole started using technology to do her school work when she was in 1st grade. At first she used a large trackball mouse, a specialized onscreen keyboard and switches to interact with the computer,” shared Katz. “As the years went on Nicole taught herself to use a regular mouse and the onscreen keyboard built into Windows. When she was in 8th grade a consultant from Easter Seals showed us some amazing technology that allowed Nicole to use any computer.”
One of those technologies was a device that allows Nicole’s wheelchair drive and computer to communicate through infrared waves via a dongle. Jeronimo explained, “My PCA inserts the dongle (small piece of hardware that connects to another device to provide it with additional functionality) into the USB port of any computer, and using the joystick on my wheelchair, it helps me navigate the computer.”
“The game changing aspect about the USB dongle is that it can be put into the USB drive of any computer, thereby, giving Nicole access to any computer. No longer does the computer have to have specialized software in order for Nicole to use it,” explained Katz. “It opened up doors for Nicole and made her ability to use any computer so much easier. For example, she could take computer courses at Ludlow High School, such as video game design, using the computers in the lab like everyone else. She volunteers at the town hall by helping to catalog scanned maps and documents and all she has to do is put the dongle in the USB port of the town hall computer and - viola - she uses the software they have set-up.”
One subject that fascinated many of the students during the presentation was the discussion concerning how Jeronimo accesses her cell phone. She explained that since 2014 she has used a Sesame Enable Eye Gaze cell phone that was awarded to her after being nominated for a contest, by Katz. “I was so happy about winning the cell phone because now I can text/call my friends and family, go on social media, send an email and upload pictures onto my phone. I use the cell phone by saying ‘Open Sesame, and the camera tracks my face in order for me to use it.”
It was clear that Jeronimo’s presentation took a step away from the text books and afforded students a first hand look into how technology supports persons with a disability be more independent. Zobel-Lachiusa commented, "Nicole was very knowledgeable about her devices; she clearly and understandably described her technology. She was inspiring."