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Man born without a voice, gets one with Liberator

(Editor's Note: The following is the first in a two-part series about Lawrence Smart, a 63-year-old man formerly of Plattsburgh who has no use of his voice due to having cerebral palsy. However, Smart has found his voice through the use of an electronic device known as a Liberator.)

PLATTSBURGH - Lawrence Smart may not be able to speak, but through the use of technology, he can communicate in a way he once never could.

Smart, the eldest of seven children, was born in the hamlet of Redford April 17, 1971. He was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that usually appears before a child reaches age 3. The most common effects of the condition are lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements, stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes. Many people with the condition are intellectually aware of their surroundings, but are often confined to a wheelchair. Assisting someone with this condition can be challenging, since they are often immobile.

Smart's mother described him as being crippled throughout his life.

"That is what we told everyone," his sister, Louise Tedford, said. "We didn't know about cerebral palsy."

One of the most difficult challenges Smart faced with his condition was the inability to speak. For 46 years, Smart could only communicate with his immediate family through non-verbal signals or body language, such as moving his eyes up and down for " yes" or side to side for "no" - until he received his Liberator in 1993.

"It was like he was a baby," said Tedford. "We just knew what he wanted."

When he was 46, Smart found his voice in the form of a Liberator - an electronic device that he can operate by using his head to press a button located on the headrest of his wheelchair. The Liberator then cycles through a quarter row of icons and symbols, with two or more symbols making up a sentence. That allows Smart to communicate hundreds of words using this technique.

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