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Man with cerebral palsy: Teen stole phone that helped me speak

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A phone that enabled a quadriplegic man with cerebral palsy to speak was stolen from his wheelchair by a teenager, he said.

William Washington, 38, is unable to walk, use his hands or talk, and he could only watch as the phone was taken right off the tray of his wheelchair in the lobby of his Staten Island apartment building Nov. 8.


Washington was on the iPhone at the time using a special pointer to type a message that would be spoken with voice technology. According to police, a teenager grabbed it and ran.

Washington described feeling helpless and "scarred."

'Really disheartening'
Without his iPhone, Washington is now limited to using a clunky computer which he used to communicate during an interview with NBCNewYork.com.

"You shouldn't steal from a disabled person who relies on a special device to reach out to the world," he typed into his computer Friday, which was then read with the help of a computerized voice.

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His assistant at Staten Island's Hungerford School, where Washington works with children facing similar hurdles, said the theft was infuriating.

"How could someone prey on a person in a wheelchair? It's really disheartening," Robert Smith said.

While the thief made off with the phone, it didn't stop Washington from getting a hold of police. Unable to call 911, Washington drafted an email to the NYPD. After looking at surveillance video, police made an arrest.

The 18-year-old alleged thief no longer had Washington's phone, but Washington said that was OK.

While his phone was stolen, he said he realized he had not lost his voice. And thanks to his friends, a new iPhone is on the way.