Hi! I’m Chris Klein and this is my story.
My life didn’t start out like my family expected. My umbilical cord was coming out before me, so the doctors had to perform an emergency C-section in order to save my life. I was without oxygen for 45 minutes and was given CPR for another 40 minutes. I should have been dead, but I survived. However, the lack of oxygen caused an injury on the motor portion of my brain. I have a disability called cerebral palsy.
My disability affects my communication, so for the first six years of my life it was a guessing game for everybody. Do you know how frustrating it is not to be able to express yourself? Do you know how frustrating it is when your parents or siblings can’t understand you? This was what the first six years of my life was like. Every time I wanted or needed something the guessing games would begin. At times, I became so frustrated that I would curl up on the floor and just cry.
At age 6, Judy, my speech language pathologist, wondered if I could use an augmentative alternative communication (AAC) device. She sent us home with one, and by that night, I was already talking in complete sentences. I could finally tell my four older siblings to leave me alone.
I can truly say augmentative alternative communication changed the course of my life. I was put in the regular classroom after receiving the AAC device because I was able to communicate. I was able to show teachers my language was intact and I needed to be challenged more and more. My AAC device also gave me the opportunity to interact with my peers, just like everybody else. The relationships I built were a big part of my growth as a child. I can honestly say without an AAC device I wouldn’t be where I am today.
The AAC device paved the way for me to go to college. I was able to get a degree in kinesiology and a master’s in theology, because I had a way to communicate. The relationships I built in college and seminary grew into a community of personal care assistants. Again, I wouldn’t have been able to develop these relationships without AAC. You need communication to develop any type of relationship, so without my AAC device, I couldn’t have done it.
Eight years ago, my friends kept bugging me to go on one of the Internet dating sites. You have to understand, I was very happy single, but I decided to agree to it so they would leave me alone afterwards! I didn’t expect to meet anybody I would connect with, but I did. Dawn and I talked for a month before we met. This was her first time experiencing a person using AAC, so talking on the phone and emailing each other helped her get to know the person I am. She had been around disabilities all of her life, but communicating with somebody with an AAC device was different. But she was willing to learn, and as we dated she began to realize how much I could do.
Three years after we met, we were married. It has been a real blessing to have a partner to share life together. Communication is a key aspect to any relationship, so we know if I didn’t have an AAC device, we wouldn’t be married. We have to continue working on our communication, but that’s just normal for any couple in a relationship.
After being unsuccessful finding a job after seminary, I decided to start public speaking. I figured I was given the gift to speak, so I put myself out there. Who would have thought a person who is unable to talk would become a motivational speaker? I have traveled all over the country and even the world speaking to a variety of groups. This is why I came to HelpHOPELive: we are in need of a new accessible vehicle. I have limited my speaking engagements because right now we don’t have a reliable vehicle.
Everybody deserves a chance to live life to the fullest and dream big. This is why I started an organization called BeCOME: AAC. It stands for Building Connections with Others through Mentoring and Educating about AAC. We want to help beginning users become proficient communicators. We believe having expert AAC users, like myself, coming along side beginning users will help them reach their potential sooner. We know there are some people who are reluctant to try AAC and believe a mentoring relationship with an experienced user will help convince them an AAC device would improve their life. They would also have a chance to impact other people’s lives with an AAC device.
I want to convey through my outreach and writings that life doesn’t have to stop when you have a barrier of any kind in front of you. I want people to overcome the barrier or barriers they have in their lives. I believe too many people quit. We need more people to persevere, so that they can make an impact on other people’s lives. I have to believe my story shows people what you can become if you persevere. I want people to say, Chris Klein ran the race to the best of his abilities.
We all will face some type of barrier, and it is up to us to decide whether or not we can overcome it. I believe the easy way out is to give up. The hardest thing to do is to accept the challenge and live life to the fullest.
We are proud to support community-based fundraising for people like Chris who live with catastrophic injuries, including cerebral palsy, ALS and multiple sclerosis. Know someone who needs help? Visit our website to start a campaign for yourself or a loved one in need.