I spent most of my summer taking photos. You probably could have guessed as much, given that I lived in India for nine weeks. What may come as a bit more of a surprise is how those photos helped me and those around me during my time there.
This past summer I interned at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP) in Kolkata. Since I expressed interest in pursuing therapy professionally, IICP made sure to place me in various clinics. But, since IICP is such a big place and runs a wide variety of services, they made sure to also place me in areas that went beyond my professional aspirations.
One such area was their department of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC refers to a range of supplementary tools used to aid individuals with impaired verbal abilities. Since Cerebral Palsy often affects people’s motor but not cognitive abilities, AAC provides an outlet for the individuals to express themselves. AAC in America may commonly take the form of a voice output device or an Ipad. In IICP, since those devices are less readily available, the staff exercises incredible creativity and designs lower-cost alternatives like printed picture-communication boards to serve the same purpose.
And that’s where my photos come in.
Around week three of my stay, I met with the staff of IICP to develop an independent project I would work on throughout the summer. I felt as though I was gaining so much from my placements and wanted to find some way to give back to them. We decided that a synthesis of my passion—therapy—and IICP’s innovative techniques for AAC would be the best method for doing so. It was determined that I would take photos of children in IICP’s school-based therapy clinic during therapy exercises and use those photos to make picture-communication boards for the children to integrate conversation based on therapy time into their curriculum. I spent the next six weeks taking photographs of three wonderful girls, collaborating with their teachers, therapists and, most important, them to design the boards efficiently. The head of rehabilitation there even decided to continue the project after I left!
Oh, and I forgot to mention this ... the children at IICP almost never come from English-speaking backgrounds, something that initially posed a serious linguistic challenge to my American self. As I worked on the project, with the aim of creating modes of expression for those around me, I found that I was opening up with them. I once again was gaining so much more than I anticipated as IICP’s picture communication opened the door to a universal language that had me and everyone around me talking.
And I love to talk.