This Hands-Free App Will Change The Lives Of People With Disabilities
The best use of the selfie cam we’ve ever seen?—?hands down.
For 20 years, Gary Fisher worked as a full-time truck driver, making daily food deliveries all over Seattle.
In 2001, Gary began to feel a numbness in his right leg. A doctor told him it was multiple sclerosis, but Gary kept working, loading and unloading trucks every day until his leg could no longer support the load.
Then the disease spread to his left leg. Then both his arms.
In 2005, at age 43, Gary had to quit his job.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that occurs when your immune system attacks itself. Doctors don’t really know what causes it, but they believe it comes from a combination of genetics and environmental factors, like not getting enough sun.
All Gary knew was that his life had changed completely. His days went from super busy to super boring. “I was sitting at home all day watching the same channel on TV,” he tells dose by phone from his home in Washington state.
That changed last year when he and his wife, Eileen, heard about a new technology that’d allow Gary to use a smartphone just by moving his head. It was a Google Nexus 5 with a new app called “Sesame Enable” pre-installed on it.
At $1,200, it wasn’t cheap, but they figured it was worth it.
Sesame Enable is an Israeli-created software that hit the market in 2015. The app uses a phone’s front-facing camera (aka the selfie cam) to detect a user’s head movements. Moving your head up and down or side to side controls an on-screen cursor, and hovering over an icon brings up a menu with options like tap, swipe, scroll or exit.
These days, we use our phones for everything. While many of us bemoan how much technology has taken over our lives, there’s a huge group of people who’ve never had the luxury of making that complaint: Researchers estimate that between 250,000–337,000 Americans have spinal cord injuries as a result of violent attacks, car crashes and other events. About half these people are quadriplegic (meaning they can’t use their legs or arms) as a result.
Since our phones have become the primary enablers of our social, professional and personal lives, not being able to use one means you’re completely left out. As Sesame Enable’s co-founder, Oded Ben Dov, put it to me in a recent interview: “If you’re not on a phone, you’re not part of society.”
Gary knows that as well as anyone. When his new phone arrived in the mail last year, he said “it reconnected [him] to the world.” Suddenly he was able to call his family and friends, see what his kids were up to on Facebook or look at old cars on YouTube. Basically, he can do everything the rest of us can?—?albeit a bit more slowly.
Hundreds of people all over the world use Sesame Enable, including in Muslim countries that typically boycott anything remotely connected with Israel. “It’s kind of like, ‘I’m going to help you whether you like it or not,’” Ben Dov says.
I met Ben Dov in March at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference. (AIPAC is a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.)
When we met, Ben Dov told me how urgent it was to tell people about Sesame Enable, that the technology could help millions of people if only they knew about it.
So I’m spreading the word.
If you know someone who can’t use a smartphone because of a disability, tell them they can buy Sesame Enable the way Gary did?—?already installed on a Google phone?—?for $1,200. This gives them a lifetime subscription to the app. Some states?—?including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kansas, Montana and Texas?—?will subsidize your purchase of Sesame Enable. Ben Dov says more states will follow soon.
Alternately, they can buy an Android 7 (or up) phone on their own, and then download the Sesame Enable app from the Google store. The app is $25 a month, with the first month free to make sure it answers their needs.
Sesame Enable gave Gary Fisher increased freedom. Now it’s time for others to benefit, too.
Thanks to my wife, Adele Nathan, a physical therapist who explained multiple sclerosis to me.