Institute Events and Trainings
Institute on Disabilities at Temple University


Augmentative Communication and Empowerment Supports (ACES)

ACES 2006 Graduation Video and Transcript

Please upgrade your Flash Player to view videos in this page. Visit, download the Flash player, then return to

Click the play button to start the video above.


(Diane N. Bryen, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University and foundeR of ACES.)

Welcome to ACES 2006.



Both a closing ceremony and a commencement—a beginning. It's hard for me to believe this, but now ACES is in its 19th year—19th! It started in 1988.

Let's see, anyone here from 1988? Nah. I was!

So in 1988, the beginning of voice synthesizers, and boy were they gross. Echo synthesizers, that sounded robotic and micro computer chips were just opening up the world and opening our horizons for folks with significant communication disabilities. But wow, we had no idea of what this would do. Even our boldest expectations didn't live up to the realities of what happened when you gave an individual with significant communication disabilities a good communication device, good training, people who believed in them and lots and lots of supports. So, 19 years later, ACES has supported more than 300 people with disabilities, allies and professional interns from 30 states and territories, from a dozen universities, from 15 foreign countries, on five continents—we haven't gotten to the Antarctic yet, I don't think we're going there, although it sounds like a good idea right now. So, I won't tell you all the countries, but let me tell you where ACES is going. ACES has already traveled to Israel, to South Africa, to a program called FOFA, which is northern Lesotho, which means to spread your wings and soar. It's visited Brazil and in March 2007, it will have its own program in Australia. So ACES, this tiny little program that we were bold enough to start 19 years ago, has had more impact than we can ever begin to even measure and certainly believe could happen. Today individuals with significant disabilities who are graduates of ACES are college students, college graduates, mothers, fathers, lecturers, wives, husbands, poets, writers, computer programmers, tax payers, volunteers, policy makers and sitting right here, a former high-ranking individual from the Clinton administration, Bob Williams, who—doesn't get much better than someone who is a graduate of ACES becomes your boss and he still bosses me around, even though he's not my boss now.


All of these folks, in large ways and in small ways are speaking out for themselves, and are speaking out for others as well. So ACES graduates 2006—Ceasar, Willie, Laurie, Anna, Jeni, Martel and Michael, who had to fly back to New Hampshire last night, you are joining a very distinguished group of graduates.

You are bold; you dared to come here, not knowing really what you'd expect, from different communities, different lifestyles and different cultures. And today, you join an amazing group of ACES graduates. So ACES, this is a speech to you guys, just a couple of things. Communication is power. I think all of you learned it. It's the word imbedded in empowerment. Communication is power. Use it wisely. Use it boldly. But also pass it on to other people. So you have to remember by passing on the power of your communication, you are truly celebrating the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the first amendment of our constitution and that is freedom of speech. Event though this is a celebration, it's also a time to reflect on other people who have been denied this right of free speech because too many people feel communication is a luxury—a luxury—not a basic civil and human right.

I want to read a poem, and we have the author of the poem, Bob Williams, right here, and I want to dedicate this, and I think we all want to dedicate this poem, to Willie.

And it's called "50 Years of No Special Reason."

The day and hour had finally arrived.

This was to be the day the consulting speech pathologist was going to let us know when Vi was finally going to get her augmentative communication system.

Anticipation loomed like the hot sticky July air, which pervaded her unit cubicle, where we all had gathered to hear the news.

Five minutes into his polite but rambling recitation, though, it became apparent that the only news he had for us that day was no news at all:

A glitch had developed here or there, a microswitch had failed, a proverbial monkey wrench had been thrown into the works again.

Nothing new proverbial monkey wrenches always had a strange magnetic attraction to Vi.

They seek her out and then boomerang in God only knows how many directions.

So, it must have come as quite a surprise to him when I asked how much longer it'd take to get back on track this time.

"Why," he quizzically replied, "is there any special reason for all the rush?"

"No, no special reason," I said, in a mute sigh only Vi could understand.

"No, no special reason at all..."

"Except that she has had 50 years of no special reasons."

So Willie, we glad you're not waiting 50 years.


Our first participant to come to the podium and that's Martel Brennan.


I now have the ability to be more productive at work by expressing my needs. I have learned to attend to the task at hand and not get up and go away without telling people where I'm going. I am looking forward to being able to socialize with my church family. My goal for the future is to be able to live a productive, independent life. I would like to get a job and start earning my own money.


Someday I would like to have a job. I think working in a clothing store would be fun. I think I have a good eye for fashion and jewelry. Just wait until I get home, you will be seeing a new woman.



My name is Anna Lohr. I am happy I came to ACES. At ACES everyone is very nice. Everybody helped me—everybody. For a long time, I had a goal of getting a job. While my husband Michael was sick, visiting him and taking care of him was my job. While he was in the hospital and nursing home, I told the nurses what he needed—a shave, his hair shampooed, if he was in pain. It empowered me to talk for him. Michael died in October. I miss him a lot. Now I have to go on with my life. It's time to work again on my goal of getting a job. And now, I also have a voice—one that everyone can understand. And after ACES, we all need a good laugh, a long nap and a drink, before we start our journeys destined for success.



I am sooo happy. My name is Lori Mayo. I like to like to learn about my strengths and ACES does make me think about my dreams coming true. I think that I will try to go to college because I want to make something for myself. I can do anything that I want and I think I will be someone important someday. I want to go to college because I want to learn more on the computer about designing clothing for people with disabilities. My strengths are that I never give up—I have to try doing things when other people say I can't. Also I am funny and other people laugh at my dumb jokes. (Laughter).

I learned how not to listen to other people who do not listen to me. I hope other people will trust in my ability to be a powerful woman. I just wanted to say thank you to everybody here and back home.



Hi, I am Willie Perry. I learned how to speak with the new Pathfinder. ACES gave me a chance to learn and communicate in a new way. Now I can help other people. My goal is to move out into my own house with a porch and a lawn and a yard. May I take my device home?




Thank you. It is an honor speaking today. My experience at ACES has been great. Finally, I was able to fulfill my dream of going to New York City. (APPLAUSE)

For that, I want to thank Patty and JD for getting the train schedule and the support. Not only did I go, but I actually thought I was dreaming, because I was accompanied by three lovely interns from ACES. (LAUGHTER).


It is my honor to introduce Bob Williams. Who is also a poet—a published poet.


Thank you. Members of the faculty of the ACES institute, and the University, family and friends, distinguished guests, fellow alumnus, and most importantly, graduates of ACES 2006. Good morning.

I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you today. Indeed I cherish the opportunity to speak, both heart and mind, thought and soul, everyday. If you don't believe me, just ask my wife, Helen.


And, I am certain, my fellow ACES alums, and those in this graduating class, feel and embrace life in the same manner, because while we are very diverse group of people, with different needs and abilities, different life stories, different paths we take, three things that we share in common are greater still. First, we all know what it is like not to be understood, not to be heard, not to be seen for who we are and who we can become. The second thing we share in common is the gift of free speech. Some of that gift resides in the devices in front of us. But the gift at-large, really is in the lifeblood that flows through each of our hearts. It is the unassailable conviction that we have a great many things to say, as well as the tools, the skills, the right and most importantly, the duty to say them. Not just for ourselves, but to help to shatter the stereotypes and barriers that still keeps many like us from speaking their own hearts and minds. This is the third thing you and I share. The duty to always search out and seize on ways to pass on this gradual right and set up tools we now have to others. Today's graduation is a celebration of what you have individually and collectively achieved during the last two weeks. It is also a day to dedicate ourselves to creating a future in which the right of free speech truly becomes a reality for all. The Free Speech Now Award recognizes the efforts and contributions of individuals whose examples and advocacy advances this cause. Diane Bryen was the first of its recipients in 1893.


Damn typos.


Diane will now introduce you to the 2006 recipient, a remarkable friend and colleague, Colin Portnuff.


Colin is not able to join us in person and I asked him if he'd send a few words. You will see more than a few words. And...there we go.



So, we will send this award, with great thanks to Colin and, we are blessed to have our lives crossed and nurtured and connected with this very gentle, gracious man.

Several years ago, we had Livina come as the support for her brother Alvin. They broke tradition, but with mother, love and belief in life, and belief in their children, said we'll put some of constraints of the Amish community aside and both Alvin and Livina come to aces and her mom, Suzie, worked with the Amish community to make the quilt for ACES. So, come on up Livina. Well, why don't you say just a few words and they we're going to open this up—I've not seen it yet.

Actually, she did it all herself.

All herself—hours and hours and hours.


And why did she do it?

I guess because you did a lot for my brother Alvin and myself.

All right, so it was her way of thanking us and...We're going to do a couple of things; one, we're going to look at it because I have not seen it yet. We may, that is beautiful, wow. She did it all herself. Well, we thank Suzie Miller, we wish she could have been here, but she sent her wonderful, talented, artistic daughter Livina. And, tell your Mom we say "thank you." Now, we're going to do a couple of things - one, it's going to adorn our very new digs, as we move to a new...the Institute's going to move to a new building, so we'll let it hang there for a little bit, just so we can beautify the new space. Then we're going to figure out a way perhaps to auction it off or to raffle if off so that we can raise scholarship money for other people to come to ACES.


All right, let's eat!