This 12-year-old boy is legally blind, nonverbal, and has limited use of his hands. But artificial intelligence technology is helping him communicate with his family members.
AI Helps Young Man with Cerebral Palsy Find Independence
Published: February 5, 2019
Kaden Bowen: Echo, call Dad
Onscreen: Kaden Bowen is 12 years old.
James Bowen: Hey, Kaden
Kaden Bowen: Go for a ride
James Bowen: Oh, you want to go for a ride?
Kaden really only cares about things that matter: friends, family, simple pleasures. For him, it’s car rides. And that’s sort of become our thing.
Onscreen: Kaden was born with cerebral palsy. He can't walk or talk and is legally blind.
James Bowen: He’s been through more in his life at 12 years than most people. He’s had both of his hips redone, 15 or 16 different surgeries, body cast. That’s an unfortunate side effect of sitting in a chair your whole life.
I’ve long passed up the idea that I want to play catch with my son someday. We have to choose different things to aspire to. It’s just communication.
He understands everything around him, but I don’t know what he wants to tell me. Technology hasn’t solved that for us yet.
Onscreen: To communicate, Kaden uses a speaking device called a Dynavox.
Since Kaden can’t speak on his own, and his hands don’t work well enough for sign language or typing, he is able to hit buttons on his Dynavox and have that device speak.
Kaden Bowen: Television
James Bowen: It dawned on me that the Echo might be able to understand that.
Onscreen: James programmed Kaden's speaking device to give commands to an Echo, a voice-activated assistant with artificial intelligence.
Kaden Bowen: Echo, play the movie Sing.
James Bowen: And that just opened up everything.
Onscreen: Being able to interact with an AI-driven device gives Kaden more control over his experiences
James Bowen: While we were out, he took it upon himself to drive over to the Echo Show and call his Grandpa. Kaden then prompted him to go for a ride. That was the most independent interaction he had ever had with somebody in his lifetime.
Onscreen: Blake Werts is 22 and also has Cerebral Palsy. He has enough control of his hands that he can type out words using a joystick. James hired Blake to join the marketing team of this IT services company.
James Bowen: Blake is this wonderful, outgoing individual who does have ways to communicate. I have this attachment to Blake, I see him as a future version of my son. He sort of even looks like my son.
I don’t see how Kaden can participate in the workforce at this point. He needs to grow and develop to where he can assemble language. That’s all we want.
Michelle Bowen: Kaden, do you want Daddy to drive?
Kaden Bowen: Yes
James Bowen: Pick me on the list.
I want him to find his own voice. It’s going to be technology and artificial intelligence that literally creates the basis for the kind of future he can have that’s not based on people doing things for him. If I can find a way to live one day longer than Kaden, I would know that I would have accomplished—that his life would have been taken care of as well as someone could manage it. It’s hard to manage all the care that he needs if we’re not here to do it.
Onscreen: James hopes that within Kaden's lifetime, artificial intelligence will advance to the point that in will help him communicate his thoughts freely.
Digital Producer: Emily Zendt
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2019