How Technology Is Helping Emrick Blanchette Find His Voice

The seven-year-old from Quebec City is living with Angelman’s syndrome, a rare disorder that leaves him unable to walk or speak. With the support from his devoted parents and TELUS Tech for Good, Emrick is building a non-verbal vocabulary through a specially designed tablet.

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Emrick Blanchette can light up a room without saying a word.

His parents, Marie-Claude Bilodeau and Maxime Blanchette of Quebec City, started calling him their “bébé Bonheur”—a nickname that roughly translates to “bundle of joy”—from the first days of his birth seven years ago because of his happy disposition and unprompted episodes of laughter.

They would later learn these same traits are characteristic of a rare neurological disorder known as Angelman syndrome.

Emrick requires constant supportive care. He can’t speak. He can’t eat on his own. He can’t walk—though his mother and father continue to believe that will be able to achieve this milestone one day.

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‘‘We learn to live with this diagnosis, but we never accept it,” says Bilodeau of the guiding philosophy behind their child’s treatment and care.

The unflagging solidarity of the people around them and support such as adapted equipment from Quebec’s largest children pediatric charity Opération Enfant Soleil give them faith that their child’s life will improve.

Emrick’s world is already improving.

Technology, combined with his parents’ relentless determination, have given the seven-year-old a voice, despite a condition that has taken away his ability to communicate verbally.

For four years, with the support of her family and friends, Bilodeau has built a network of connections with Emrick using the PODD method—a communications technique that provides a vocabulary for those who, like Emrick, are non-verbal or have no other way to communicate via facial expressions or hands. Using a series of images, selection of words can be made by pointing or looking or other methods.

Bilodeau has traditionally kept the images in a large binder, which the family has had to take everywhere with them.

Now, through the support of the TELUS Tech for Good program, the family uses a tablet that’s configured specifically for Emrick’s needs. Tech for Good is designed specially to make tablets and smartphones accessible for people like Emrick who are living with disabilities by providing users with training and tools adapted to their specific needs.

For program participants, the support is a means to democratize tech adoption, and provide real connection to the people, resources and tools needed to thrive.

“The TELUS Tech for Good program enables people of all ages to communicate and become more independent in an increasingly digital world,” says Gift Tshuma, Assistive Technology Specialist, March of Dimes Canada, the organization that helps implement the program across the country. ‘‘This initiative helps the most marginalized also to benefit from the human connections that we all need.”

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In Emrick’s case, these tools mark an important turning point in his development: the boy can now navigate through a much wider range of images available on the tablet, with each opening up his universe a little more. It means he can tell his parents that he loves them, and communicate more easily with his big brother, his cousins, and his grandparents.

Bilodeau says the support from Mobility for Good came just at the right time.

“Emrick was ready for those tools, but we didn’t have the means, given all the costs involved,” she says.

“We’re grateful to be accompanied and understood in dealing with an extraordinary struggle.”

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