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Max and EagleEyes

Posted by Debbie Inkley on July 20, 2016

When I first started volunteering at the Salt Lake School for the Deaf and Blind, my friend Debbie Inkley told me something that has stuck with me ever since. She said the most important thing that I want you to remember while working with these incredible kids is that there is a real person locked inside that body. A person with intelligence, aspirations, and personality just like we all have. Unfortunately they are not able to express all those things and function like we are. Over the last few months while I have worked with these children, I have come to understand that there is not a statement that is truer than that one. Everyday that I work with these kids I am able to see the unbelievable things they can achieve and improvements they make each day. And thanks to programs like EagleEyes, the process of these children’s progression is greatly expedited and they are able to achieve things that they would not have been able to achieve otherwise.

I can fondly remember the first time I ever heard about the EagleEyes program. We watched a short documentary on the creator of EagleEyes, Professor Jim Gips, and how EagleEyes became what it is today. In the documentary there were several children with severe disabilities that made most of society turn a blind eye to them and deem them completely incognizant. Throughout the video you see how with the help of EagleEyes, these tenacious kids are able to communicate, learn, and experience life just like a normal human. In the video there is one young man in particular that absolutely floored me and made me want to pursue volunteer work with special needs kids. His name was Michael and his whole life his mother was told that he had the intelligence of a 6 month old. Though this news was incredibly discouraging, Michael’s mother refused to believe it. One day while Michael’s mother was flipping through the television channels, she stumbled across a report on EagleEyes and she knew it was the perfect program for Michael. She continuously contacted Professer Jim Gips and after enough badgering, Professor Gips agreed to try the technology out on Michael. Only after using EagleEyes for a short while, it was clear to Jim Gips and Michael’s mother that he was a fully intelligent being that was trapped inside a disabled body. Shortly after getting comfortable with EagleEyes, Michael was able to start attending school again. He sat through classes with an aide and was able to do assignments and tests using the EagleEyes technology. Through hard work and a love for learning, Michael was able to graduate high school and receive his diploma. Michael took the same classes, got the same weighted grades, and received the same diploma that every other student did at that school and it was only possible because of EagleEyes.

After hearing Michael’s story, I knew that I had to volunteer at a special needs facility. Making that choice was one of the best things I have ever done with my life. I cannot remember a single day that I worked with the children in my class and didn’t leave with a feeling of elevation. And it’s funny because I have always thought of my volunteer work as ironically selfish. Selfish because it may seem like I am giving a lot of my time and energy in my volunteer work, but it compares nothing to what I receive in return. I receive raw love, compassion, and most importantly fulfillment. Fulfillment from knowing that I am making a difference in these children’s lives and that I get to go and do impactful work every day.

My favorite thing about the class I volunteer in is the diversity of personalities that exist. Emma is curious about her surroundings and loves to interact with people, Waylon likes his personal space but will never hesitate to play with you, and little Hannah just loves being a part of what’s going on and will never turn down an opportunity to give you the biggest smile she can give. I love seeing all the diverse personalities because it shows that they are truly their own person and that is extremely important because they are often only seen as their disability. I have learned firsthand that these phenomenal children are our equals; you just need to look a little closer to see the resemblance.

I would like to end with thanking the entire EagleEyes family for the fantastic work they do by implementing the EagleEyes technology and changing countless lives. I would also like to thank my Community of Caring Teacher Chip Hopkins. If it wasn’t for him, I would have never been provided the avenue to do such meaningful volunteer work and receive such fulfillment. 

Max Strayer

May 2016