Hi! I am Tania and am said to be the one who created the TandemMaster, but it isn't exactly the case. The TandemMaster is the offspring of two devices that I previously used but became obsolete as technology advanced... I just made the TM come to life.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy; my disability was a result of a complicated birth. I don't have any use of my limbs and I can't talk vocally. A few doctors told my parents that I probably wouldn't amount to anything and would cause great distress to the family. They suggested my parents put me in an institution, but my parents didn't take the advice and took the challenge to raise me. More about my life can be read in the book that my dad wrote A Special Child. My family's greatest gift to me was they raised me like a normal child and didn't expect any less of me throughout my childhood; they are the reason why I am where I am at today and I can't put into words how grateful I am to them for this gift. My family let me fly with my broken wings.
When I was old enough to read, I had a communication word board; it was a board with about 200 words on it. Since I had good control with my neck, I used a head wand to point to the words. It was very attractive, to say the least, and my vocabulary held steady! A couple of yearts later, my dad decided that I should try a typewriter.
Amazingly my vocabulary grew, my mom no longer dressed me in plaid, I could tell on my brother, and I finally had the chance to annoy my dad with question after question about the world. I am quite sure my dad NEVER regretted letting me try a typewriter… I was still very attractive with the head wand attire; I was hoping I would start a new trend at school, but unfortunately, that never happened…
Several years later, my mom heard about a study for non-verbal children at the University of Washington. They wanted to find out if Morse code could be an effective way for kids to communicate. This study was started by a man, Al Ross. Al had a friend who couldn't talk. Al tried using Morse code with his friend and moved onward to creating the study at the UW. Luckily, I was one of five kids whom were chosen to participate in the two year project, and my life has never been the same. Al created a Morse code based communication system that I used for 20 years; Al is one of my heroes... The Morse code Project
I met a lot of talented people who were involved in the Morse code project; I will be always grateful to every one of them for helping me through the project. We went to the University of Washington about twice a week for 3 or 4 hours; we did a bunch of activities besides learning Morse code. When the project started, they evaluated us on our abilities, limitations, spelling, speed and accuracy. It was hardly a jog in the park for us. After they found our strengths, they started to build on them giving us confidence to push forward. Morse code Study
I have to be honest, at first I thought learning the Morse code was going to be a waste of time, and I would probably never use it after the study was finished. Plus, the Morse code looked hard to learn; there were some days when I rebelled from participating from practicing the drills and everything. When I had days off from the UW, My mom drilled me with flash cards. I didn't enjoy the flash card drills until it came time to test Al's communication system; it was about a year after the project started that we had the opportunity to test the communication system.
When I tried the system, it was then that I truly realized that I could say anything and everything that I wanted. I had total freedom with my words for the first time and I could talk with ease, without breaking my neck. School became fun instead of exhausting. I could focus on my studies and have real conversations with my friends for the first time; also I didn't need an adult figure with me every moment at school and that was awesome. Tania enters public school after receiving Morse code communication system
The time came when we had to use the communication system in the public. They mounted the system on our wheelchairs, and they wanted us to interact with people other than our family members. I chose to go to a mall and get something for my mom's birthday. With a video camera following my every move and with a big ball of nerves in my stomach, I bought 3 crochet hooks all by myself. I went up to a store clerk, asked if she could help me, I told her where my money was, asked her to hang the bag on my handle bar, and thanked her for her help. I wheeled out of the store with an explosion of pride and happiness! I could see that Al was pretty happy as well! After this, I took off and still haven't looked back on my silent world.
I, also, realized that Morse code was easy to learn; I only needed to learn 26 letters and 10 numbers, 36 characters total. Punctuation and computer commands are just combinations of letters and numbers. I learned Morse code in one month… Unfortunately, most people have the same mind set as I did when I started the project; it is a shame because Morse code would change lives for individuals who have severe disabilities and for their families as well.
My mom knows that I will be able to communicate my needs effectively, and that I will be ok when she isn't around anymore. This is a huge relief to her and to me as well.
When the study ended, Al's dedication to five kids continued. He would come over to our homes after work if we needed something repaired or tweaked and never would accept anything in return.
When I started looking for employment, I needed to upgrade my assistive technology; it was not very easy because there wasn't anything as good as Al's device on the market. During my search for assistive technology, I happened to meet someone who created a device called the Adap2U. Bill created the Adap2U for his father Gaining Access The Adap2U was for PCs; I changed over from using a device that allowed me to communicate to a device that allowed me to use a computer and this was the point when I gained true independence. However, making the switch was extremely hard for me because Al's communication system was a part of me; it wasn't just some piece of equipment. I still have it; it is in a safe place, and probably when the big man upstairs says it's my time to go, it will be at my side.
These two systems helped me get through school, college, made it possible for me to enter the workforce, and made it possible for me to go for my goal to skydive. Through skydiving, I met the love of my life. We have been together for 12 years, and 3 years ago, we became parents to the most wonderful boy in the world! Michael's birth The follow-up Ken is, also, a computer geek and he has created several awesome software programs that has giving me more independence in my daily life.
After several years involved with the Adap2U, Bill moved on and I needed to find a system that I could operate before something happened to my Adap2U. I tried several Morse code devices, but nothing was very user friendly and didn't compare to the systems that I used; they were putting limitations on my communication as time passed. My heart sank deeper as I searched for "another voice" for myself. Also, I knew a few other people were in the same situation with the Adap2U, which made my heart sink more.
One day, I was really having a bad day and I was just about to get to my end of my rope when I received an email from my engineer, Jay Pennell. Jay helps me occasionally with my wiring on my chair and with special projects. Jay is very special to me as well. He must have sensed something was wrong because he ended up coming over and we began talking about making a new device.
Several months later with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears The TandemMaster was created. I took the best features from Al's communication system, and took the best features from the Adap2U and put them on paper, and Jay took my blueprint of what I wanted and molded it into one little box. With the help from Jay, Ken, and my brother, I have a voice and computer access. I will be looking for ways to upgrade the TandemMaster; due to funding limitations I couldn't have everything that I had on my original blueprint for the TandemMaster; I am committed to making the TandemMaster last for a lifetime for those who fly with broken wings…
"A tandem master makes it possible for people to skydive leaving all limitations behind." Tandem Master in skydiving