Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 29 July 2011 00:00
In college at the University of Maryland, East Birchwood native Jaime Openden had a dilemma. She had always wanted to be a writer, but after seeing Sound and Fury- a documentary film about families with deaf children and the debate over whether or not to give them cochlear implants- she felt herself drawn towards the field of speech-language pathology as well. She eventually earned a graduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Hunter College and went on to work as a speech-language pathologist at public and private schools in Manhattan, but never completely gave up on her writing plans; now, with her new firm Bignity Ventures, she can pursue both interests and benefit children with special needs at the same time.
The Jericho High School alumnus, whose family still lives in the Jericho home where Jaime grew up, started Bignity Ventures to provide resources, information, opinions and news in the world of special needs to parents, teachers, and of course, children. Openden says that she defines “special needs” broadly: learning disabilities, language impairment, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome are all topics covered by Openden and her team of writers on the new Bignity.com website. “Anything under the sun, really,” said Openden.
In addition to informative articles, bignity.com will soon feature interviews with professionals in the field of special needs education, as well as video reviews of learning applications available for children. Eventually, Openden explained, her goal is to offer custom, free applications for the website that will test children’s communication skills and offer parents and teachers the opportunity to track their children’s progress.
Tracking progress is something that Openden’s current employer, the McCarton School in NYC, takes very seriously. For that reason, they’ve agreed to allow their students to test Bignity’s applications in the future.
“Technology has allowed for kids to really excel- children who are non-verbal, or just learning to talk- you put them in front of a touch screen computer, an iPad or something like that, and they just soar beyond your wildest imagination,” said Openden.
The series of applications will focus on social communication, general language skills, reading and comprehension, making the process as interactive as possible, in order to allow the children to “target those skills in a way that’s very entertaining, but yet grounded in what’s important in kids’ lives,” she said.
Developer InfoRed, which also created the Bignity website, is slated to develop the applications when the company is ready. Openden said that she is waiting for Bignity to become better established on the web before reaching out to investors to fund the software, however a fundraising event is tentatively planned for fall. While there are also tentative plans to monetize the website via advertising, Openden says she plans for the content and later, applications, to always remain free for users.
One of the reasons why keeping content free is so important to her is because in a time of harsh financial realities, budget cuts can hurt special needs students tremendously, Openden noted. “It’s heartbreaking, because their basic needs are not being met on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It’s not something that can be inconsistent just because the funds aren’t there.”
She went on to say, however, that despite her concerns about consistency in special education today, she has nothing but good things to say about professionals she has met in her field, many of whom inspired and encouraged her to start Bignity Ventures.
“We’re just a community of people who really want to help in any way possible,” she said.
To find out more about Bignity Ventures and all aspects of special needs education for children and teens, visit www.bignity.com.