Joker Keith joins world of words

Liz Coates Jubilant, overwhelmed and possibly a little less than politically correct the irrepressible Keith Ferridge used the power of speech to tell a joke with crystal clarity for the first time.

Liz Coates

Jubilant, overwhelmed and possibly a little less than politically correct the irrepressible Keith Ferridge used the power of speech to tell a joke with crystal clarity for the first time.

Once he had dispensed with the heartfelt thank-yous he celebrated being able to express himself in clearly spoken sentences with a gag about the Paralympics.

Delivered in slightly American diction similar to Professor Stephen Hawking an assembled audience of friends, fundraisers and well-wishers erupted into laughter - a fitting introduction to his world of words.


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And there was a warning: “I have 50 years of talking to catch up on!”

The momentous occasion marked the culmination of just six months of fundraising for the 48-year-old, whose cerebral palsy has robbed him of the power of full expression.

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Now £8000 raised locally has paid for a top specification DynaVox machine that will be supremely enabling.

Not only will he be able to talk coherently, the touch-screen machine can send and receive text messages, connect to the internet and operate any remote control device.

The machine was officially handed over at Centre 81 in Tar Works Road, Great Yarmouth, on Tuesday. Good humoured joshing lead to some mates shouting out “Where's the on and off switch!” as Keith overcame his verbal handicap with a fluent address.

After thanking everyone for coming to the celebration he said: “It's hard for me to tell you what having this means to me. For nearly 50 years I have wanted a voice. Can you imagine what that has been like? Probably not. But now that I have one it's bloody amazing - and I think all of you are bloody amazing too. I cannot believe that you have all helped to give me my voice. I do not know what to say except thank you for everything you have done.”

Keith said he was especially grateful to his good friend Bob McCartney, adding: “Bob you have helped me in so many ways. I have my own voice now Bob but I still need you as a mate.”

He also had special praise for Nikki Pitts, the driving force behind the successful fundraising appeal.

Nikki, a facilitator at Centre 81 said: “He has an amazing brain and is a brilliant chess player and cribbage player - but that often gets overlooked. Some people have not got the patience to wait for him and they will speak for him. But to see him people listening to him and to see that he could be heard is absolutely brilliant.”

Mike Storey from Birmingham-based DynaVox said: “It never ceases to amaze, shock and absolutely scare me that sometimes people like Keith have to wait years and years without a voice.” Although the system is easy to use it could take Keith up to a year to be totally fluent. Only 5pc of people who need such a machine receive one.

Mayor Terry Easter said he was delighted for Keith adding: “He likes a joke so I dread to think what he will put you through!”

Posters asking for small change donations went up in WH Smith Great Yarmouth six months ago but quickly snowballed with many people warming to the appeal and proving their support with donations.

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