AT Success Stories - Sam Creech
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An Empowering Voice
by Patti Murphy, Dynavox
"Reliable communication equals empowerment," says Sam Creech. His proactive approach to life has served him well throughout his 40 years. So has the eclectic mix of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools he has used. These range from homemade letter and word boards to vocalizations with his mother, sister, and close friends and associates. His use of synthesized speech communication technology began at age 12 with a device consisting of three-digit numbers that stood for a letter or word – “435, 210, 270” was the numerical sequence for “Sam,” for example. Seven years later, Sam got a new device featuring a semantic coding system for composing messages. At 26, he switched to text-to-speech software with a laptop, a system he used for a decade. Each change brought Sam progressively closer to real-time conversation.
While technology may be pivotal to his success, attitude shares the credit. Sam prefers to focus on professional and personal pursuits than to dwell on the effects of his cerebral palsy.
“You can live life to the fullest, or sit in a corner and complain,” he says. Sam is pleased with his choice and the opportunities that have come with it. For the past decade, he has worked for Walton Options for Independent Living Inc. in Augusta, Georgia and North Augusta, South Carolina, where he lives. He became its Director of Information Technology three years ago. Intertwining his affinity for people and technology, the job is a natural culmination of his earlier achievements. In his previous job as a network manager for Augusta Technical College, Sam co-wrote one of the earliest online courses in higher education in a competition grant project. His team, he proudly recalls, beat Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the design and functionality categories. Sam completed his own formal education at the University of South Carolina in 1993 with bachelor’s degrees in computer science, psychology and education. Through it all, he has mastered the art of everyday self-expression.
“In my job, being able to communicate fast and accurately is vital,” he said. Sam reached new levels of doing so three years ago with his adoption of DynaVox products – first the DV4, then the Vmax – that he could access with a head mouse offering compactness and comfort missing in the earlier laser beam technologies he used with previous communication systems. It enhanced his ability to interact with coworkers and speak before large groups with speed and ease. Sam most often uses the expansive Gateway Pro word-based page set because it complements his well-developed use of language. His new Vmax lets him hold private conversations and give presentations in real time, thanks to features such as Quickfires, vocabulary selections for casual, routine or formal situations that can shift at the press of a button. He can research and write presentations directly from the device, which has a built-in, fully functional Windows-based computer that can easily connect to the Internet.
Sam can hardly imagine life without the expeditious and versatile communication system that aids him in fulfilling managerial responsibilities for internal IT operations at the two Walton Options sites. He supervises two people. Many more rely on his troubleshooting skills. New colleagues sometimes show surprise when they seek him out.
“They are taken aback by my use of a power chair and AAC,” said Sam, noting a positive flip side to his position – the chance to be a role model in the computer classes he teaches for adults with disabilities.
“This is why I am at a center for independent living. When a consumer comes up to me and says, ‘You changed my life for the better,’ and proceeds to tell me what they are doing with their life, that’s the best reward.”
There are plenty others, if the countless hours and miles that Sam devotes to advocacy activities are any indication. He serves on the boards of System Transformation in South Carolina and the Easter Seals Mobility Planning Service, which deal with transportation accessibility issues, and a team at the Georgia Department of Labor that promotes employment of people with disabilities. A firm believer that assistive technologies are only helpful when carefully matched to individuals, Sam demonstrates AAC and IT products to help consumers throughout the region make informed decisions.
Retired vocational rehabilitation counselor Larry Addley says “I think they forgot to tell Sam that he has a disability” when introducing his friend at speaking engagements. Sam seemingly forgets it himself yet remains gracious when others do not, even when they refer to him using terms such as “handicapped” that some advocates find offensive.
“He’s not real politically correct,” said Addley, whose retirement job as community work incentives coordinator at Walton Options affords frequent visits with Sam. “His theory is ‘I don’t care what you call me, just treat me like a human being.’ “
If Sam has a defining achievement, it may well be the balance between work and fun. Being close to family helps. Sam and his mother Vivian share a home next door to his sister and her family. He adores and spoils his niece Morgan, 12 and nephew Nicholas, 7. The star of the bunch may be Jake – “a toy poodle with a loud mouth,” as Sam describes his dog.
A frequent diner at Mexican restaurants, Sam finds them even more enjoyable now that he orders meals using the Vmax, a bilingual device that also brings him the joy of connecting with Spanish-speaking friends. An avid reader of mysteries, biographies and computer literature, he is a Delta blues and classic rock ‘n roll fan. Sam values time to reflect on his hopes for the future. When asked to share them, he paraphrases Martin Luther King Jr.
“My dream is to be able to live in a nation where nobody is judged on their negatives, but on the content of their character.”
Patti Murphy is a staff writer at DynaVox Technologies. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.