“Kristin Rytter is believed to be the first University of Washington student with cerebral palsy to earn a doctoral degree. Although she cannot speak and cannot use her hands or feet, she has found ways to communicate, at times spending 10 hours a day researching and writing. She is already sharing her research with others outside the UW. (January 09, 2007)”
I thought this article from the front page of yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer was inspiring, intriguing and timely.
From the article:
Her studies took nearly two decades, but UW officials are in awe of the accomplishment. She is believed to be the university’s first student with cerebral palsy to receive a Ph.D. Rytter, 41, cannot speak. She cannot use her hands or feet. The Seattle woman communicates using an “eye code” she and her father developed when she was young. She corresponds using a specially equipped computer. …Her eyes light up when she talks about her research, which has focused on disabled children who struggle to communicate. She works with parents to help them look for cues that indicate the child is trying to talk, even if the child can’t speak. Her goal is to help parents better understand how to interact with their disabled children.
One mother Rytter worked with didn’t think that her young son, who has Down syndrome, was communicating with her. But after watching the boy, Rytter observed that he was trying to talk by pointing.
Rytter’s own mother placed nametags on items around the house so she could learn words. To “talk,” Rytter moves her eyes to create letters and spell out words. Looking at a person’s shoulders, for instance, signifies the letter “s.” She has personal staff members who understand the code and translate. She can type on a laptop computer by moving her head against sensors, tapping out words in Morse code. That’s how she wrote her dissertation — all 200-plus pages of it.
…Kristin Rytter earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the UW in 1989. She pursued her doctorate over the next 17 years, defending her dissertation last quarter. She will be hooded at graduation this spring.
Despite her own communication limitations, Rytter devoted years to her work, at times spending 10 hours a day researching and writing.
For her dissertation defense, she prepared a PowerPoint show and had someone voice record her written presentation, which she played on a computer. Afterward, she presented written answers to questions her committee submitted ahead of time.
…Last month, Rytter gave a commencement speech to the department of speech and hearing science at the University of New Mexico, where her former UW adviser now leads the department. She encouraged graduates not to underestimate the abilities of people with disabilities.
Rytter spoke about “how important it is to listen to and learn from people with disabilities and their support systems. This is true no matter how language and/or cognitively delayed people are. They have their own personalities, preferences and capabilities to participate in life.”
Entire article by Christine Frey is here.