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Nothing is impossible if you work toward achieving it

Katie Bradley (right), director of speech therapy at Community Memorial Hospital, worked for over a year programming a special computer and teaching Jenn Smallman how to use it. Contributed Photo 1 / 2
Jenn Smallman uses a special computer with words and phrases that she can access with her nose to do such things like order groceries, call a cab or make a doctor’s appointment. Contributed Photo2 / 2

There is perhaps no one who personifies the phrase "nothing is impossible" more than Jenn Smallman of Cloquet.

Smallman was born with cerebral palsy-spastic quadriplegia resulting in very limited to no use of her arms or legs. This has also caused her speech to be understandable only by those who communicate with her often.

She has surmounted incredible obstacles and continues to triumph over her challenges every day, finally achieving one of her biggest goals: paid employment. Her accomplishments are the result of self-motivation, determination, optimism and the assistance of occupational, physical and speech therapists at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet.

For the past 20 years, therapists at CMH have been instrumental in developing adaptive strategies for Smallman — helping increase her independence, even going to her house to make modifications that would make it more functional for her. Often the adaptations are a team effort between Smallman and the therapist and may involve such basic ingenuity as strings and ties. Occupational therapist Jess Ochis has been to Smallman's home for those modifications

"Jenn is exceptionally motivated to be as independent as possible without assistance from others, even though she does require the help of a personal care attendant on a daily basis," said Ochis.

In many ways, Smallman's wheelchair is an extension of her body. It includes a cup holder (with an extra-long straw), cell phone holder, as well as a strategically placed android tablet that she uses for communication. Smallman is able to type by selecting words on her tablet screen with her nose. The tablet has letters, words and phrases with specially designed software of pre-recorded phrases that can be activated with the press of her nose.

Speech therapist Katie Bradley worked for over a year programming the tablet and teaching Smallman how to use it. Now all Smallman has to do is press the button to activate her personalized words and sentences. Here cell phone is connected to her tablet as well so she can call her work, make therapy appointments, call a cab, or make a doctor's appointment. She even has a button that she can push which informs people of her physical disabilities, but explains to them that she is not mentally impaired.

Smallman reports this button alone has helped new people she encounters in the community know how to respond to her.

The communication device has led to the realization of Smallman's ultimate goal.

"After 42 years, I have my first job," she said. Smallman works at Pinewood, where she reads books to mentally challenged adults, delivers messages and offers encouragement and companionship to them. She would like everyone to know that she is just like everyone else, she just can't walk and talks differently.

"I am not disabled, just differently abled," she said. "People have stereotypes that someone is mentally impaired if they are physically disabled. They should rise above that."

Both Ochis and Bradley describe Smallman as an inspiration to all people and someone who seeks joy in everything she does. Smallman exudes an attitude that obstacles can be overcome and shouldn't hold anyone back no matter how big the obstacle is. Bradley affectionately describes Jenn as "independent, proud and sassy!"

Smallman does not view her limitations as a disability and loves to be out in the community interacting with others — and she is quick to tell you that she doesn't have much time for people who complain. People with disabilities are just like everyone else.