Strengthening their bonds
Online communication enhances relationships for those with disabilities

By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / November 26, 2007

WELLESLEY – Gregory Walsh and Austin Lam sit facing each other in their wheelchairs, saying nothing.

Outwardly, that is. But on a level beyond speech, the 28-year-old Walsh and the 13-year-old Austin are communicating plenty.
The two have a special relationship: Walsh, who lives in Braintree, is Austin’s mentor and role model. Through his own example, he teaches the Wellesley boy how to live day-to-day with the challenges posed by their shared disability: cerebral palsy.

Soon, though, the two will be able to communicate even more fully. Austin’s parents plan to soon acquire a specially equipped computer device that will enable him to access the Internet. That means he and Walsh will join the growing ranks of disabled mentors and their younger proteges who communicate online under a program run by Partners for Youth with Disabilities, a nonprofit organization based in Boston.

… Walsh, for example, cannot speak or use his hands. To communicate in person, he moves his eyes from one letter to another on a plastic letter board to spell out words. It is a laborious process. But Internet use is another matter. He is able to play chess online and regularly e-mail questions to his mentor, George Donahue of Watertown, via a computer with a large switch he can manipulate with his right foot.

“George has been a mentor and a friend to me,” Walsh wrote via e-mail. “He has introduced me to many new people and new experiences.”

Here is the full story.

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