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Growing Up Different

Photo of Kara and Alan
  Kara was twelve when she first meet Alan in 1993.

Cerebral palsy robbed Kara Johansen not only of her ability to walk but also of her ability to speak—conventionally, that is. When FRONTIERS first met her in 1993, twelve-year-old Kara still managed to make her passion to communicate unmistakably clear. Using an alphabet board held up by her mother, Kara focused her gaze at the board to spell out words one letter at a time. Her family became skilled at translating her eye movements, and even Alan found he was able to communicate with Kara after a bit of practice.

But when Kara's older sister left for boarding school, Kara needed a way to extend her skills to the telephone. During another visit with Alan two years later, she demonstrated her latest tool. An infrared eye-tracking system designed by Boston's Children's Hospital was able to translate her eye movements into letters and words. With the help of a voice synthesizer, Kara was finally free to use the telephone in private.
Photo of Computer-based Camera  
This computer-based camera translates Kara's movements into words.  

In "Finding Her Voice," FRONTIERS meets up with Kara again. As independent as ever, she's trying out yet another speaking device—a laptop mounted with a camera. Rather than tracking her gaze, the camera follows her head movements by homing in on a small dot Kara wears on her forehead. Using her head to move the cursor, she "types" on the onscreen keyboard. Then as before, a voice synthesizer reads her message aloud. Sadly, Kara lost her mother to cancer in 1994. But as she tells Alan, her mother's words of encouragement help her push forward no matter what the odds in her quest to do whatever and be whomever she wants.


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