George Russo has a bright and cheerful presence, when he laughs you can’t help but laugh, too. Unusually open about his life and experiences, he’s the type of person you’re instantly comfortable with. George was born with cerebral palsy. Over the course of his life he has had a front-row seat to the development of many types of assistive technology, but his experience with communication devices has been particularly extensive.
Despite having plenty to say, communication can be difficult. Being resourceful and determined, in high school George used a typewriter as his main form of communication, and in 1985 he was the second person with a disability in Florida to pass the academic skill test. Since then, he has had three communication devices and several power wheelchairs. “These devices have enabled me to have two full-time jobs and live independently in my own apartment.”
Currently, George has an Eco2 that uses Minspeak, a way to code vocabulary using multi-meaning icons. This provides the user with a much quicker and simpler way of developing sentences. For instance, an image of a glass of juice could mean simply “juice”, or if combined with the image for verb it could mean “drink”, while combined with the image for adjective it could mean “thirsty.” George says it took him about a year to learn Minspeak, and he’s very happy with this system. “Everyone seems to want everything done right this minute. That is why the Minspeak language is important to me since it helps me to communicate as fast as possible.”
These days George lives on his own and is working part-time for Easter Seals of Southeastern Pennsylvania. He is an assistant to the Assistive Technology team. “One of my favorite tasks is putting children’s books in PowerPoint Presentation format enabling kids with limited mobility to turn the pages using a switch. This is another form of assistive technology at its best! And the best is still yet to come.”