FOX47 NEWS - Fitting In At The Fair

Jeff Angileri
Jul 19, 2009, 5:40 PM

A group of campers visited the Dane County Fair this week -- normally that's not news -- but this is.

They are 17 young people from UW-Whitewater, all with severe speech impairments.

These are members of Authentic Voices of America or AVA camp. They communicate using computer devices.

While they may not be able to speak like the rest of us, that's certainly not quieting their voices.

"It's an excellent feeling," said Jon Feucht, AVA Camp director.

Feucht typed his responses on a keypad, and a computer voice "speaks" for him. "We have a good group," he said. "We should have fun -- to be able to use our communication devices in a real world setting -- it's an awesome feeling. I've been doing this the last 10 years already."

Advisors say these kids with speech impediments get to be just like everybody else, at least for one day.

"They're going to communicate with everybody else, order their meals, they bought their tickets -- what a lot of people take for granted -- they're gonna be a part of that today," said Dan Price, AVA Camp coordinator.

Camper Maria Braun, 16, of Waunakee had the urge to get something sweet to eat. "Cotton candy," she said.

With the help of a translator, and very dexterous toes, Casey Sowers of Fort Wayne, Indiana, mentioned his favorite things to do at camp. Sowers uses his feet to type.

"I like to talk to the campers and go swimming," he said.

The campers took full advantage of the county fair -- racing down slides, petting animals, watching dazzling stunts, even doing pull-ups at with marine recruits. And they did it all -- by typing and letting computers talk for them.

"It takes a very long time to say what you want to say," said Lynn Braun, Maria's mom. "Don't rush and try to answer their thoughts for them. Be patient and let them finish."

Said Price, "They may not talk as fast. They may not move as fast, but they can think and see things just the way you and I do. They've got stories, they make jokes."

Some goals of AVA Camp are that campers will finish with greater self esteem, make friends, and develop career skills.

Camp lasts for a week. It is conducted at UW-Whitewater, one of the most accessible public universities in the country.

AVA website

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