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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Assistive Technology Makes a Difference for Lukas Bratcher

Thanks to some ingenious assistive technology, this high school student didn't let a birth condition stifle his passion for music. He played euphonium in his school's award-winning marching band from his wheelchair. More to this story.
Transcript

Lukas: Mom, is it ready?

Mom: Yup.

Okey dokey.

Lukas: I get up five thirty in the morning every day and I get ready for school, takes about an hour. My brother Rob and I jump into the van and I go down to jazz band.

Narrator: It's zero hour, seven AM, an hour before most of his fellow students show up for first period and Lukas Bratcher is already doing what he loves most.

Lukas: My school has an outstanding music program and I just love to play.

Narrator: In addition to the jazz ensemble, Bratcher also plays his euphonium horn in Mead High School's concert band. [Lukas plays euphonium] And in the Spokane school's award winning marching band. [band playing]

John: It's been very cool that we've been able to make this happen, because the marching band is set up with stationary instruments up front, which are typically percussion but, but, you know, he's right down there with them, set up with his euphonium and is able to play a hundred percent of the musical show.

Narrator: That Lukas can play anywhere is a testament to his perseverance and the support of many people who help make his playing possible. It has been an uphill battle ever since he was born with a condition that renders his limbs nearly useless.

Lukas: It's called amyoplasia arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, and it's throughout my four limbs. And it's basically, I have stiffness in my joints and some of my muscles aren't there.

Teacher: Well, what's another name for one over sine theta?

Cos secant.

Cos secant theta.

Narrator: Lukas hasn't let his disability prevent him from participating fully at school.

Times one over cosine theta.

Narrator: He takes four advanced placement classes, and does his homework on a laptop without the aid of the voice recognition software the school provided. His daily routine includes a session with a physical therapist who also happens to be Mead's football coach.

Lukas: I love Vic, he's cool, he's the best. And it's really nice 'cause he's used to working with teams.

Fifty-eight, you're at one fifteen.

Lukas: He's used to pushing people, so he pushes me too and it's great.

And time, four fourteen, down and back.

Narrator: A tenacious competitor, Lukas is captain of a winning chess team he helped start at the school.

I like that pawn.

You can keep it?

No.

James: He likes to win, but he's a good sport when he doesn't win. I think he likes the game, he likes the fight, but he always seems to have something positive.

Lukas: What can I learn from this loss?

Narrator: Lacking manual dexterity, Lukas learned to play music his own special way, to the amazement of his first band director.

Lee: He looked very eager and excited about being a member of the band, and quite honestly, my thought at that time was, "Oh my goodness, how could this possibly work?" And as we took the students through their method book, I noticed that occasionally, he would play on his horn. His hands were not able to activate the valves on the instrument, so it was apparent to me that what he was doing was just being selective about the notes that he was playing. He was willing to sit there and just wait for that one note to come along in the music, and when it came, he played it with all of his heart and enthusiasm and capability to make the best sound that he could. That was enough for him, initially.

Narrator: But Lukas knew he could do more, and that's when serendipity led his mother to the instrument repair shop of Robin Amend.

Robin: I love repair, I mean, it's always different, always working on a different instrument. There's always different problems. My grandfather was a Vaudeville musician. He lost his arm in a lumber mill accident. He put an ad in the Portland paper asking one armed people if they were interested in learning music. He taught them how to play instruments.

Narrator: The senior Amend also patented a device that allowed people with missing hands to play the piano.

Robin: I'd always wished that I could make something that could make a person who had lost an arm be able to take the place of their fingers, and then one night, I woke up in the middle of the night and I realized that joysticks aren't just for putting electrical things on screens. Joysticks can do other things. Joysticks can do mechanical things.

Narrator: Amend's dream became a small box with a joystick that triggered solenoids and operated the valves of a horn. Learning a new way of playing was exhilarating and frustrating for Lukas, and just as he was getting the hang of playing it, someone took his horn.

Woman: Call crime check if you have any information. That number is--

Kristy: It was stolen in the morning and by five o'clock that same day, I was getting the first call in my cell phone from an anonymous person that said that they wanted to contribute monetarily to a fund to either replace it, or as a reward for it. And from that point on, it just snowballed into this huge wonderful thing where the community raised six thousand dollars.

Andrew: You know, I wasn't quite sure where the optimum spot for the solenoids was gonna be, so I wanted to be able to have it slide up and down in--

Narrator: The loss of the first horn became a blessing when mechanical engineer Andrew Coleman joined Amend to design a second, more responsive joystick and horn, which Lukas uses today.

Kristy: What's so beautiful with this whole music thing is, you know, he's a part of that whole huge sound that they do. They look at him and he's as good or better or, you know, as anybody else there.

[band plays Sugar-plum Fairy]

Terry: It's very unique what he does. There are some musical challenges, but it's his personality that is making it happen, 'cause he's taking all those pieces and put them together in a positive way and working really hard.

Lee: When I heard and saw Lukas perform recently at a concert, it reminded me just how far we've come. And through the efforts of all the people that have been involved in supporting him, we caught on to his dream.

[band plays Sugar-plum Fairy]

Lukas: I'm hoping to go to college on a music scholarship and study music and be a musician.

I love to play.

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Credits

Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Miwa Yokoyama

Editor:

  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Ken Ellis
  • Peak Video Productions
  • Mike Stine

Narrator:

  • Kris Welch

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • Robin Amend
  • KHQ-TV
  • KXLY News4

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