March 2, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 12

Maureen Gates, coordinating teacher for the EagleEyes program, working with Boston College Campus School teacher assistant Joseph Appleyard. A colleague says Gates "has a fundamental recognition that there is no such thing as a person with a broken soul."

Keeping EagleEyes Open

Gates plays valuable part in innovative program for severely disabled

By Greg Frost
Staff Writer

There is a certain irony about Maureen Gates' work for the EagleEyes program at the Boston College Campus School. By her own admission, Gates can't program a VCR to save her life - yet most of her days are spent fiddling with electrodes, wires and computers to help students with acute physical disabilities fundamentally change their lives.

Gates is the coordinating teacher for EagleEyes, which allows the severely disabled to control a computer at the blink of an eye using technology developed at BC.

For many EagleEyes users, the ability to manipulate a cursor with their eyes represents a revolutionary breakthrough, a life-altering experience. As Gates put it, the technology can help students go from being isolated spectators on the sidelines of life to taking a place on the playing field.

"There are parents who come out of here crying because they're so excited about what's happened to their children," said Gates.

"The best part of my job is when I see the spark of life that is a child and they're able to exhibit their personality and not be locked behind their disability," she said.

Like many things associated with EagleEyes, Gates' work is a labor of love. She got involved with the technology in the 1990s when she worked with Michael Nash, who is perhaps the program's biggest success story to date.

Nash is a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who for the first 12 years of his life was considered by most people outside his family to be nothing more than a broken soul, an empty shell of a human being.

But with the help of EagleEyes, Nash has been able to communicate his likes, dislikes, feelings, hopes and dreams. He has, in short, expressed his humanity.

Gates first got to know Nash when she was hired as his driver. After the EagleEyes system exposed Nash's potential, Gates became his one-to-one teacher. He has since graduated from Marshfield High School, has been decertified by the state Division of Mental Retardation and has even starred in and co-written the narration for a film by Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts) and O'Neill Library Circulation Assistant Ronald Marsh.

Now, through a partnership between Boston College and the Utah-based Opportunity Foundation of America, there is hope that many other severely disabled individuals will, like Nash, be able to communicate with the outside world for the first time.

OFOA signed an exclusive license agreement with BC allowing the foundation to manufacture and distribute EagleEyes at no charge to special needs schools, non-profit organizations and public charities in the United States and in Britain.

As the use of EagleEyes technology spreads, Gates is working with EagleEyes teachers Linda Carfora and Joseph W. Appleyard to develop an online curriculum that will allow users to access learning in a formal way.

"The hope is that one day a child in Michael's condition can take the MCAS test and can graduate with his classmates," Gates said.

To her colleagues, Gates' patience, enthusiasm, energy, humor and kindness make her a daily source of inspiration.

"She has an infinite amount of energy to motivate her students and new clients, and an infinite amount of love for them as well," said Carfora.

Adj. Assoc. Prof. Philip DiMattia (LSOE), director of the Campus School, said that in addition to her many skills as a teacher, Gates has a great hope and sense of expectations about individuals with severe disabilities.

"She has a fundamental recognition that there is no such thing as a person with a broken soul," he said.

Gates, showing her modesty, said such comments are more than she deserves. But it's not just people at BC who are singing her praises;

Kathy Nash, Michael Nash's mother, said Gates deserves every plaudit that is hurled her way.

"Maureen came along and she saw Michael's potential and she helped us show others - she was Michael's words in the world," she said. "I think a higher power sent her. I really do."

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