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She Needs a Device to Communicate. The State Has Kept it From Her for 18 Months.

Emory, 11, has cerebral palsy and uses an augmentative communication device to talk to her friends. One day, her mother turned it on and smoke came out. “They make it so hard for families that they give up.”

Emory Webster, right, and her mother, Adiba Nelson, in their home in Tucson in October. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star)

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This article was produced in partnership with the Arizona Daily Star, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Emory Webster, 11, lives in Tucson. In a recent interview, she said she does not like to cuddle. Her favorite thing to do in the summer is swim.

Her mom, Adiba Nelson, listened carefully as Emory spoke — sometimes asking a question two or three times to make sure she understood — then explained that Emory loves to paint and hang out with friends. Recently, she’s embraced the idea of being a DJ, pretending to beatbox and scratch records.

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“Ms. Emory is a little firecracker,” said Adiba, 43. “She is sassy as the day is long, but she’s also one of the sweetest kids ever and funny. Oh God. She has such a sense of humor. It’s ridiculous.”

She’s also a typical preteen, Adiba added. “She gives me hell daily.”

Emory has cerebral palsy, which makes it difficult for her to talk to others, an extra challenge for a social preteen with lots of friends. She has an augmentative communication device provided to her through the Division of Developmental Disabilities, but Adiba said it is outdated — and broken. “I went to plug it in and it sparked and smoke came out of it. I was like, OK, I guess it’s done,” she said.

A painting of a girl with a long brown ponytail, yellow tank top, and blue polk-dot pants sitting cross-legged in a wheelchair.
Emory Webster loves to paint and hang out with friends. (Erika Clark/Make Studio for ProPublica)

They’ve waited 18 months for another one. In mid-August, Adiba learned that Emory’s new device was approved in early July. As of the first week of October, they were still waiting to hear when they’d receive it.

In a statement, DDD officials said most of its clients receive help quickly and express satisfaction with their care. They did not respond to specific questions about Webster’s case.

Adiba said DDD’s delay had impacted her ability to communicate with her own child.

“I always say, ‘Would you let your child sit with you and not speak for months?’” Adiba said, adding, “I firmly believe they make it so hard for families that they give up.”


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