Lisa Willard has a presentation that covers all areas of her business: She talks about pet beds, catnip toys and even a vest to put on dogs for carrying their Frisbees.
Willard and her foster mother, Patty Meyer, create these products for Willard’s home-based business, Paws Pleas.
She talks about how she sells them online at her Web site, www.pawspleas.com, how she wants to expand to craft shows and how all the products are machine-washable. It’s as much information as any pet lover could want.
But it’s not Willard’s voice you hear. It’s her DynaVox, a $7,000 system that Medicaid purchased for Willard, who has cerebral palsy, that allows her to communicate with people.
The Lawrence woman touches a switch with her forehead to tell people when she’s hungry, talk about what she did at physical therapy that day or listen to her favorite country music artists, such as Carrie Underwood.
Paws Pleas is the way Willard and Meyer hope she will earn a livelihood partially on her own.
“It is my hope to become as independent as possible,” Willard says, using her DynaVox.
Willard became Patty Meyer’s foster daughter when she was 2 1/2 years old. Last May, Willard, now 22, graduated from Free State High School. But because Willard was no longer under state care and had a legal guardian, she didn’t qualify immediately for adult day programs. She was put on a waiting list behind more than 2,000 other people.
“We were devastated, in fact,” Meyer said. “We already had our life figured out. We decided the only other option was to come up with a business she could do.”
Willard had taken sewing classes at Free State, so finding an activity in that area seemed like a good idea. Willard runs the sewing machine for her products with her headswitch. Meyer plugs it into a special box, and then Willard controls its power, while Meyer guides the fabric on the machine. Willard also can run the power of the food processor and blender when they make sweet potato chews and other animal treats.
“At least it gives her an avenue of doing something with her life,” Meyer said.
In January, Willard and Meyer won a $10,000 grant from the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities to help fund her business. Now it’s all about getting the word out.
Meyer said she and Willard plan to go to craft shows, but right now they’re working on orders that come in through the Web site and distributing brochures at local businesses.
When Willard isn’t helping create cat beds that look like teepees or towels for drying off wet dogs, she’s going to Kansas University, where she volunteers to work with students who are learning how to program her DynaVox. She also reads books to area elementary school children using the device.
Meyer said Willard is a very auditory learner, something that makes using the DynaVox possible and improves the possibilities for her future.
“It does allow her some independent communication,” Meyer said. “It does open up a whole different world.”