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More Than a Typical College-bound Student

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Nick Gibson, a recent graduate from Woodford County High School in Versailles, KY, displays his upcoming college semester schedule to Jane Kleinert, Ph.D. Kleinert is a faculty member in the Division of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the College of Health Sciences and has worked with Gibson since he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant.

Like many young men his age, Nick Gibson just graduated high school and is excited to start college in the fall.

He’s already wearing red sneakers, a red polo and a Hilltoppers lanyard around his neck in anticipation of attending his parents’ alma mater – Western Kentucky University. Not surprisingly, he’s also excited to meet girls on campus.

Gibson loves sports and enjoyed watching his older brother, Wade, play soccer, baseball and basketball. He himself lettered in football as an assistant offensive coordinator. Gibson will continue his life-long love of sports while in pursuit of a degree in sports management, planning to one day become an athletic director or general manager.

For all practical purposes, Gibson is a typical, American young man except for one incredible fact – he’s done all this without the ability to walk or speak. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 9 months old, he uses a motorized wheelchair and communicates through a synthesized text-to-speech system.

“He’s been very successful with everything he’s done,” said Jane Kleinert, Ph.D.

Kleinert is a faculty member in the College of Health Sciences Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders and has worked with Gibson since he was 13 months old.

He wanted to be as prepared for college as possible, so Gibson e-mailed Kleinert about improving his skills at the UK Communication Sciences and Disorders Academic Clinic. Over the course of three semesters, Gibson worked with various CSD students under Kleinert’s supervision to improve his speed and accuracy with his communication instrument, take practice interviews and otherwise become better prepared for college.

“The research literature regarding persons with disabilities shows the biggest factors affecting post-school success are self determination and communication skills,” said Kleinert.

For all practical purposes, Gibson is a typical, American young man except for one incredible fact – he’s done all this without the ability to walk or speak.

Gibson and she were recently on UK’s campus as guest speakers at a conference about assistive technology and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

AAC includes a collection of techniques and technologies that enable someone to communicate who is unable to use oral speech. It can range from using simple hand gestures or picture books to advanced computer-based speech synthesis, like the system Gibson uses.

Gibson’s current communication instrument is an Apple iPad 3G suspended on a mount attached to his motorized chair, giving him easy access to the 9.7" touch screen. He chose the device because it’s portable, has a keyboard (in this case an on-screen keyboard) and of course, is super cool.

“I argued about that with him,” said Kleinert, speaking about Gibson’s choice of an iPad. “I thought a touch-screen laptop with communication software would be better, but Nick really likes his iPad and it’s great.”

Gibson was more than happy to demonstrate the new iPad-based system.

“iPad is portable, cool and has a keyboard,” said Gibson through the synthesized voice. “I can control the voice, speed and volume.”

The device also lets Gibson browse the Internet through its built-in cellular data connection. Further displaying his excitement about college, Gibson found and displayed his fall schedule showing a full course-load of 16 hours.

Academic achievement is high on Gibson’s priority list – in fact, one of Gibson s proudest accomplishments in high school was his 3.4 GPA.

Though supportive parents, an understanding school district, friends like Jane Kleinert and services like the UK Communication Sciences and Disorders Academic Clinic have certainly made a big difference in his life, Gibson’s determination and strong will are the true standouts of his success.


For more information about the Communication Sciences & Disorders program, visit www.mc.uky.edu/commdisorders