Eleven-year-old Jordan Bassi has never talked - until now.
For his entire childhood, the Mountain View Elementary School fourth-grader's thoughts have been imprisoned by a crippling disease. His interaction with parents, teachers and classmates has been limited to gestures, yes or no nods and tapping out simple words on an alphabet board.But thanks to state-of-the-art technology and the generosity of his classmates, Jordan is learning to "talk" using a computer voice synthesizer mounted on a specially adapted, motorized wheelchair.
"We could always communicate, but Jordan has never expressed an idea. He'll be able to do that now. I'm very excited about that!" said his mom, Judith Christensen.
Jordan, who has cerebral palsy as the result of a birth accident, suffers from severe, multiple handicaps. He has no functional speech and is confined to a wheelchair.
But Jordan is also extremely bright. Unlike other severely handicapped children, Jordan's academic achievement is not confined to special education classes. Salt Lake School District officials say he is the district's only student with severe handicaps attending regular classes.
But for him to perform in regular classes, he needs an aide constantly at his side, helping him communicate with teachers and attending to other basic needs.
His teacher, Cathy Rosenbury, said that although Jordan is able to keep up with his school work now, that will become increasingly difficult as he advances to intermediate and high school.
"I couldn't imagine having to punch out everything manually (on an alphabet board). The time required for his aide to do that would be very prohibitive," Rosenbury said.
So Rosenbury and Jordan's speech teacher, Beth Sachau, appealed to the state's newly organized augmentative/alternative communication team for assistance. The experts evaluated Jordan's case, recommending a portable computer-communication system as the way to open a window of academic opportunities for the boy. They suggested a computer with both a voice synthesizer and a printer.
With the computer, Rosenbury believes, Jordan's possibilities are staggering. "I think he could be another Steve Hawkins; he is that bright," said the teacher, referring to the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who uses a computer system similar to Jordan's to communicate.
However, there was one big drawback to the computer-wheelchair package. It cost more than $11,000.
Christensen said her insurance company agreed to pay 75 percent of the bill, making Jordan the first person in Utah to have his computer communication devicecovered by insurance.
However, even with the efforts of his parents and the insurance company, the family was still short $1,000.
That's where Jordan's classmates came in. They decided to raise the money - no small task for elementary schoolchildren in the west-side school.
They settled on a carnival - "Jamboree for Jordan" - as a fund-raiser. It was held Friday after school.
Mountain View Principal Nancy Larsen said the carnival was a success even before the first cakewalk song. The schoolchildren had sold carnival tickets all week and asked local businesses for donations. They easily made their goal.
As the carnival fun began, the schoolchildren seemed just as interested in Jordan's new equipment as in penny toss, dart throw, basketball shoot and assortedgoodies. They crowded around their classmate, asking for demonstrations, which Jordan happily provided. He zoomed from one end of the school multipurpose room to another.
Then the children heard one of Jordan's first computer-assisted words. With the Sachau's help, Jordan said, "Thanks."