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John R. Oishei Foundation Grant to Fund UB Center for Augmented Communication

Release Date: November 2, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y -- Funding clinical services for clients who cannot communicate through speech is the ultimate goal of a $220,000 grant awarded to the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences in the University at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences.

The grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation, to be paid over two years, will provide start-up expenses for a Center for Augmented Communication in the department's Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic. After the first two years, grants, workshops and clinic fees will provide funding for the clinic.

The center will provide services to area residents who are unable to speak because of physical or cognitive disabilities. Nationwide, there are approximately 3.9 million people with complex communication needs, some of whom use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to communicate.

Jeffery Higginbotham, Ph.D., associate professor in the UB Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences, said the center's work will have a significant impact on the lives of clients.

"It means the difference between not getting an education and getting an education, the difference between not being able to be employed and getting a job," he noted.

"The ability to speak is more important than what we call our right to freedom of speech, because without the ability to speak, you can't exert control over your own life," added Higginbotham, who founded UB's Communication and Assistive Device Research Laboratory in 1988.

"What most interested us in making the grant for the center was the level of research being conducted that could translate to clinical applications," said Thomas E. Baker, president of the Oishei Foundation.

Baker added, "We believe the best grants we make bring advancements and breakthroughs directly to people who need them, and we are hopeful that the center will do just that."

Uday P. Sukhatme, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he is grateful to the Oishei Foundation for its leadership role and for "recognizing how critical this research is to the everyday lives of our citizens."

He added: "The foundation's support demonstrates a belief not only in the university and its high-quality research, but in the vast opportunities for partnering with UB to improve the quality of life in the Buffalo-Niagara region."

The Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic trains speech pathology and audiology students and each year serves hundreds of Western New Yorkers with a number of conditions and diseases, including tinnitus, laryngectomy, Asperger's syndrome, autism, stuttering, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Higginbotham said the Oishei grant will allow the clinic to expand its current clinical focus to offer more services in AAC.

The latter will include establishing a support group for persons with Lou Gehrig's disease, MS and Parkinson's disease; workshops to help professionals learn more about AAC technology; consulting work for area agencies, and assisting homebound patients in acquiring AAC funding.

The John R. Oishei Foundation's mission is to enhance the quality of life for Buffalo-area residents by supporting education, health care, scientific research and the cultural, social, civic and other charitable needs of the community. The foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corp., one of the world's leading manufacturers of windshield wiper systems.