A 17-year-old Texan teen named Archer Calder grew up at a loss for “normal” means of communication with his younger sister.
Archer said, “I’ve never grown up with a neurotypical sibling, so that comparison is hard for me to make.”
“But I’ll say that she’s definitely very opinionated. If things don’t quite go her way, she lets you know that,” he added.
Her sister, Della, a 14-year-old, possesses a very rare genetic disorder which creates abnormality in her speech, movement, and eating capacity called Bainbridge-Ropers Syndrome.
A combination of short sounds and hand signals to communicate with other people are what Della grew up to use. She was later presented with other alternatives for communication such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) applications – programs devised to aid individuals with speech and language abnormalities. However, her family was disheartened by the outcome.
“I really had imagined her speaking in sentences and thinking that she was going to tell me how wonderful and grateful she was for all the things we do for her. But it wasn’t like that at all,” stated Della and Archer’s mother Caitlin Calder.
Della didn’t want to utilize the first application they offered, and after that broke the second tool they bought for her.
Some of the devices were very expensive because they are hardware-based and could cost thousands of dollars. So after trying out various AAC applications that worked best for Della, the cost started to burden the family.
“She wants to communicate like everybody else. And just imagine how hard it would be if you couldn’t communicate by talking to people,” Archer said.
This sparked his idea of making a device that could help Della. He perceived this situation to be unfair to families like his, offering financial sacrifice to possess a fundamental tool to being human.
Archer used codes to develop Freespeech, a web-based application that allows users to program their preferred buttons and images to portray words and sounds words out loud when clicked.
Freespeech buttons are comfortably editable, unlike any other AAC applications. Archer deemed this feature vital to how Della wanted to communicate.
The Calder family started seeing improvements in Della’s communication with them. “[Freespeech] has really helped to bring her more into the conversation and more into the dynamic of our family,” said a statement from Della and Archer’s father Chad Cadler.
They said that it helped them discover more of Della’s personality.