Diamani McNeely and Zachary Baldwin

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Zachary Baldwin is three years old and his friend Diamani McNeely (pictured at left) is four. They are also both deaf. Their mothers are friends who got acquainted through a parent support group in Washington, D.C. for parents of children who are deaf.

Zach and Diamani have similar needs. When Diamani's mother, Amber Robles Gordon, found out that the Eric Fund had selected Diamani as an award winner, she was thrilled, but the first question out of her mouth was, "Was Zachary Baldwin selected too?" She was equally concerned that Zach, too, would be granted the assistive technology that both children need.

The Eric Fund will be funding environmental controls for the children that will assist them with basic living skills and increase their ability to interact with the hearing members of their families at home. A First Alert smoke detector, which provides visual cues as opposed to auditory cues to alert someone of a fire, will make their homes safer. A TTY device will assist in teaching the children how to communicate via the telephone by using a keypad as opposed to a handset. Similar to the First Alert, the Nutone Strobe door chime and the Simplicity Telephone Ring Signaler both indicate that someone is "calling" by giving a visual cue. Both children will receive all four controls. 

Diamani's mother explained that the technology will help her son become more aware of things that hearing people take for granted. 

"Diamani needs these things to adapt to everyday living," says his mother. "They will help teach him basic daily activities that will help him grow and mature as an adult."

As his mother, she is excited because she knows that these basic devices will increase her son's ability to communicate with her. She says she looks forward to the day when he will come to her and say, "Mommy, someone is at the door." 

Zachary Baldwin lives with his mother and his grandmother. Zachary's mother, Renee Johnson, is the only one who knows sign language. She's eager for her son to learn how to use his TTY so that he'll be able to better communicate with his grandmother. 

"Zach is at an age in his life where he is beginning to understand that he is different from other people because he can't hear," said his mother. "It's very important that he learn that he can do everything a hearing person can do, but that he's just going to have to learn to do them differently. [The technology that the Eric Fund is going to provide for Zach] will teach him basic social and adaptive skills that will begin to help him understand that." 

In addition to having sons who are deaf, Zach's mom and Diamani's mom share single motherhood. Raising a child with a disability involves additional financial costs. Assistive technology is expensive and as any parent will tell you, securing funding for devices can often be extremely difficult and frustrating.   Renee and Amber were both thrilled to find out that The Eric Fund would be helping them out ... and helping their dreams for their children to come true.

2001Nate Nashawardee