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Join us to talk about the stories we wrote about Arizonans with developmental disabilities
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Join us to talk about the stories we wrote about Arizonans with developmental disabilities

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Adiba Nelson looks at her daughter, Emory Webster, 11, as they use Emory’s new communication device at their Tucson home. Emory was evaluated for a communication device in July 2019. She received it the day after a story about her appeared in the Nov. 8 Star.

Emory Webster can talk again — and she’s got a lot to say. 

Last month, the Arizona Daily Star and ProPublica reported that Emory, who is 11 and has cerebral palsy, had been waiting more than 18 months for a communication device from the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities, or DDD.

The wait was over the day after the story appeared. 

“Monday morning I had a text from our service coordinator at DDD that miraculously the talker had arrived and it was in their office,” said her mom, Adiba Nelson. 

You can hear from Emory and Adiba, who live in Tucson, as well as others profiled in State of Denial, an investigation into services for people with developmental disabilities living in Arizona, at a free, virtual event from 5 to 6 p.m. MST on Dec. 16. The presentation on Zoom will also feature people who were instrumental in making the project accessible through illustration, photography, plain language translation and audio recordings. Register here to receive the Zoom link and join us.

Others featured in the story received more disappointing news.

Cassie Camacho, who lives with her father and stepmother in Mesa and has an intellectual disability, called her DDD support coordinator after the story ran to ask if she could get additional help from the state, including a spot in a group home. Camacho currently receives no services other than quarterly meetings with a support coordinator. 

In early December, Cassie wrote in an email, “I talk to ddd person she didn’t say nothing.”

After the story about Emory was published, Adiba heard from many people who wanted to buy her daughter a device. The Star and ProPublica also received offers of help, including from companies that make communication devices. 

No need, Adiba, said; DDD came through. Some materials are still missing, like a key guard that will allow Emory to better control her use of the screen of the communication device. And it will take a while for Emory to get up to speed, although her speech therapist has already started training. 

DDD did not respond to questions about Emory’s case. 

“Emory’s been using it. She loves it,” Adiba said. “Allowing her to express herself via her talker allows her to be a full human being, which so much of society doesn’t afford people with disabilities.” 

Adiba is happy to take the bad with the good, thrilled to be the parent of a sassy tween. She recalled that Emory got in trouble for something recently. 

“I went in and I was like, ‘What is going on, why are you being this way, it’s not acceptable,’ you know, all the mom stuff you say. She takes her talker and she says, ‘You’re impossible.’”

“I’m impossible? Oh honey, you have no idea,” Adiba recalled, cracking up at the memory. “Hold onto your seat, kid, cause this is nothing.”

You can hear from Emory herself at the Dec. 16 event, along with: 

  • Drew Bolender and his mother, BJ, who live in Phoenix. Drew has epilepsy and his mom relies on caregiving support from the state to keep him safe and healthy.

  • Rebecca Monteleone, an assistant professor of disability and technology at the University of Toledo, who translated the stories into plain language.

  • Representatives from Make Studio in Baltimore, including Rosie Eck, program and exhibitions associate, and Stefan Bauschmid, program director, and artists Erika Clark and Kareem Samuels.

  • Mamta Popat, photographer at the Star.

  • Amy Silverman, working as a reporter this year with the Star as part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

  • Maya Miller and Beena Raghavendran, ProPublica engagement reporters, and Shoshana Gordon, ProPublica story production fellow, who worked on community engagement reporting and art direction for the series.

  • Jill Jorden Spitz, editor of the Arizona Daily Star.
  • T. Christian Miller, a senior editor at ProPublica. 

RSVP to receive a virtual event Zoom link at propub.li/azstories.

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