When Kirkland’s Tania Finlayson communicates, what you hear is a series of beeps.
“I have cerebral palsy, which occurred at birth. My disability makes it hard for me to control my body movements. I have always been non verbal.”
Those words came out of a speaker, in a woman’s computerized voice, attached to her wheelchair. Tania tilts her head back and forth to trigger a couple of devices that allow her to use Morse Code to communicate. The Morse Code is translated to type on a screen in front of her, and then the words come out of a speaker. She started using Morse Code when she was 11 or 12 and it changed her life. She could finally communicate.
“My mom did not dress me in plaid anymore. I could tell on my brother. And I finally had the chance to annoy my dad with question after question about the world.”
Tania is out in the world. Always smiling, she met her husband Ken in a skydiving chatroom. Yes, skydiving. She has jumped from planes countless times.
“We have been together for 15 years and seven years ago we became parents to the most wonderful boy in the world. I have the best family. It still amazes me at times, how lucky I am.”
Tania was at a Flight For Sight Fun Run in Everett, an event that benefits Guide Dogs of America, when she realized just how lucky she was to have her vision.
“I am able to help others despite my physical challenge and I wanted to do more to help. So I thought driving to Spokane would challenge me and something that I could do almost on my own. I told Ken and my son first. Ken thought I was off my rocker but he supports me even so.”
From June 8th through June 11th, Tania will take to the open road and drive her wheelchair 300 miles from Kirkland to Spokane, with a goal of raising $42,000. That’s how much it costs to provide a blind person with a guide dog.
“I thought that she was crazy,” Ken said. “But, I mean, she’s come up with a lot of crazy things, I mean we met skydiving. One thing I learned about Tania is that it’s a lot more comfortable and safer to get behind her when she gets her mind in something, than get in front of her. Because if you get in front of her she’ll probably just run you over.”
Of course, Tania won’t be alone. Ken will ride his bike alongside her, as much as he can, and they’ll have a support van filled with family and friends.
When I asked Tania about where she gets her determination, she credits her family.
“A few doctors told my parents I probably wouldn’t amount to anything and would cause great distress to the family. They suggested my parents put me in an institution. But my parents did not take the advice and took the challenge. My family’s greatest gift to me was they raised me like a normal child and did not expect any less of me throughout my childhood.”
Ken says Tania designed her Morse Code translator herself, despite having a degree in recreation, not engineering, and she now markets the product to others with physical constraints.
Ken thinks she can do anything she puts her mind to.
“People say driving to Spokane is an amazing endeavor,” Tania says. “But in my eyes it is just a pebble in my journey in life to lend a helping hand to Guide Dogs of America. Hopefully I will be able to help knock a boulder out of someone’s path in their journey in life.”