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Education

Variety Opens 'My Voice' Program To The Public

Friday marks the public kickoff for a new program assisting children with communication disorders in Western Pennsylvania.

Variety the Children’s Charity’s “My Voice” program will select up to 20 children to receive iPads with apps specifically tailored to their needs as prescribed by their individual speech language pathologists.

“As one mother said to me, 'You’ve blessed my child with a voice when he wasn’t born with one.’ So we’re using an iPad with a communication app put on it so that kids can have a voice who are not able to express themselves verbally,” Variety chief executive officer Charlie LaVallee said.

Just like the non-profit’s “My Bike” program, participating families must gross less than $97,000 (for a family of four) and have a child between 4 and 21 with a communication disorder documented by a specialist. Applications are available online. Devices will be free to families who meet income guidelines. 

Families not considered low-income can still be eligible, LaVallee said. A typical family supporting a child with speech disabilities accrues a multitude of medical and equipment costs and can’t necessarily afford a communication device for themselves, he said.

The devices run about $1,200 each, including product cost, an accompanying app, device insurance and time spent coordinating best practices with each child's doctor. Once distributed, the iPads belong to the children.

“Sometimes, kids use it in school but then they can’t take it home because it’s shared by many other students," LaVallee said. "That doesn’t make sense, right? You can only have your voice on during the school day? Well, don’t you need to have your voice with mom and dad and your brother and your sister?”

Typically, the apps consist of pictures of actions, such as a person going to the bathroom, which will then vocalize the need to the child’s guardian. Some let users add pictures of restaurants for the child to choose where they’d like to eat dinner or help a middle-schooler pick out his or her outfit for the day. LaVallee said it will also facilitates every-day communication with loved ones.

Parents dream of hearing their sons and daughters say, often for the first time, that they love their mom or dad, he said.

“Every child should have a voice,” LaVallee said.

The program has gave away 32 devices on a first-come, first-serve basis in their 22-county area since they launched in 2014. The group also runs a “My Bike” program, which has given out more than 800 adaptive bikes to children with disabilities since it began two years prior.