Monday, April 16, 2007

Team Hoyt

Today was the (cold and rainy) running of the Boston Marathon here in Massachusetts. That picture over there is obviously not today. In fact, the Boston Marathon did not feel like itself at all, given that the heart and soul of the marathon for the past 25 years, Dick and Rick Hoyt, were not there.

Rick Hoyt, who has CP, runs in the marathon, with his father acting as his legs, pushing him in an adapted 3-wheeled racing chair. (Rick had the first of its kind, before Baby Joggers and Special Needs Joggers.)

Since you can read about Rick and Dick Hoyt and their athletic career on their Team Hoyt site (or just by Googling them) I will not repeat it. Besides what interests us, as special educators, is the disability awareness work they do and how Rick went from a little kid in a private special needs school, to a public school student to a B.U. graduate to an employee at Boston College.

I have had the privilege of meeting and hanging around with Rick and his dad a few times. Rick is an inspiring guy, even without the marathons and iron man events. When he speaks with his dad sometimes the audience gets caught up in asking about the number of times they have medaled and things like that.

My students are usually more interested in thing like, "What do you do when your communication device breaks down?" (He and his family and friends have a system of partner assisted scanning in which his communication partner says the vowel in alphabetical order and Rick signals with his eyes where to stop, then the partner says the alphabet from that vowel and Rick signals again, when the partner things he or she has the word then a guess is made until the word is complete.) and "How did you learn to spell?" (His mother wrote the alphabet on his body with her fingers, saying the letter name and sounds.) Once I even had one of my students ask, using his Chat PC, if Rick ever got frustrated because people assumed that he was not smart just because he could not speak.

Years before that I actually had a student, who after hearing Rick say that learning to spell is the only way to be able to share your own words, could be cajoled into doing his reading work by teasing, "Rick Hoyt always did his reading!"

Rick is a talented AAC user, switching to a Words+ system in 2001 on the Rosie O'Donnell Show. Previously he used another device and before that an original device created just for him by engineers at Tufts University that Rick called simply "My Communicator".

Once Rick proved himself with "My Communicator" he was allowed (!!!) into public school . He started running with his Dad in 1977 and loved it, so they worked to enter more challenging races with each passing year (like the Boston Marathon and the Iron Man).

Rick went to school at Boston University, where there are stories of him sneaking into the Women's Dorm rooms by doing a sort of belly crawl one of his classmates described as "the worm", but I have no way to verify those stories. Each of his papers took him many times longer than anyone else's because of the tedious process of scanning to type. His switch sight is at his temple.

Rick graduated from BU with a degree in special education. He now works at Boston College on the Eagle Eyes Project and his spelling system is frequently referred to as the "Hoyt Spelling System". He also has a full calendar of speaking engagements done at schools, conferences and businesses. As part of his disability work he is featured in a documentary called, "Rick's Eyes on the Prize", which is included in the "I'm In Here" series. Last time I spoke with him Rick was living in his own apartment in part of Boston with personal care attendants coming in to assist him.

If there is no other message, "I'm in here" is it.

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