Archer Calder, a 17-year-old Texan teen grew up unable to communicate with his sister the normal way.
“I’ve never grown up with a neurotypical sibling, so that comparison is hard for me to make,” Archer said. “But I’ll say that she’s definitely very opinionated. If things don’t quite go her way, she lets you know that.”
Della, Archer’s sister, is a 14-year-old girl who has an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes her to have abnormal speech and movement, along with lower eating capacity.
Della grew up using a combination of hand signals and short sounds to communicate. Later, when she was presented with other options such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) applications for speech or language abnormalities, her family seemed unhappy about the outcome.
A statement from Della and Archer’s mother Caitlin Cadler said, “I really had imagined her speaking in sentences and thinking that she was going to tell me how wonderful and grateful she was for all the things we do for her. But it wasn’t like that at all.”
It seemed that Della didn’t want to use the first application they gave her, and then proceeded to break the second device they bought her.
Della and her family were struggling with the high cost of AAC devices. The hardware-based ones could cost thousands, so after trying out various apps that worked best for them in Della’s situation it became burdensome on their already tight budget.
“She wants to communicate like everybody else. And just imagine how hard it would be if you couldn’t communicate by talking to people,” Archer remarked.
Archer perceived this situation to be unfair, so he came up with an idea that could help Della and their family.
Using codes to program an application which Archer called Freespeech, he developed an efficient way to communicate with Della. Freespeech is a web-based application that allows users to program their preferred buttons and images with words, sounds, or iconography when clicked.
The customizable features make it a perfect tool for Della’s needs, which was why Archer considered this feature so vital to how she wanted people to hear her thoughts.
“[Freespeech] has really helped to bring her more into the conversation and more into the dynamic of our family,” said Della and Archer’s father Chad Cadler.
The family noticed how Della was becoming more comfortable with communicating. It gave them a chance to see another side of Della.