I hate it when people treat me differently just because I have a disability. That’s the worst thing anyone can do to me. Unfortunately, most people who don’t know me do. People talk to me. You speak to me like a child. It’s really demeaning.
I have athetoid cerebral palsy and am basically nonverbal. I have an app called SayIt! to help people with disabilities communicate, and I found out a month ago that I had been nominated for the MIT Innovators under 35 Award (taking place tomorrow in Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal). I’m looking forward to it and my dad is coming with me.
I felt like I didn’t deserve the nomination. I didn’t do it for recognition, I just created what I needed. But instead I can help people all over the world.
It was difficult growing up to accept that I was different. Luckily I had a lot of support from my family, I have an older sister, Ruth, and we get along really well.
I’ve always had a passion for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) because that’s how I’ve always communicated. Fascinated by the technology behind software, I started teaching myself how to develop software when I was 16.
The summer I finished secondary school in Donegal I attended the Google Summer of Code where companies hire a student to work on a project.
I’ve worked with Tecla who make a device that allows disabled people to use mobile devices without touching the screen.
I wanted to do something with computer programming where technology and disability intersect and went to the Institute of Education Letterkenny (now ATU Donegal). I enjoyed student life and when I graduated in 2017 I founded my company EnabO.
Get the nod
Eye gaze, controlling a cursor on a screen through eye movements, has become very big. However, I just don’t have the ability to use it. And it got me thinking. Can I come up with something that would be easier for people like me?
I call it “head control”. You basically move your head up, down, left, or right to move a cursor around the screen. They then make a facial expression, e.g. B. by sticking out your tongue to make a choice. There are different modes. You can simply use left and right head movements and use a facial expression to change the direction of the cursor. Or you can use head movements up and down.
I build software based on my experience. And I will never release anything I don’t love.
Just say it!
I’ve always seen the value of the art of communication because I had to put in so much more effort. I was less involved in conversations, which was really frustrating.
Technology has gotten better over the years. And suddenly the term assistance technology was big. What I used was fine. It allowed me to say whatever I wanted. But it also required lugging around a laptop.
So in 2016 I started working on SayIt!, my UK app.
I wanted to communicate quickly. That was most important. But the other factor was mobility. The obvious choice was the iPad.
I knew the basic level of iOS development that allowed me to create version 1.0. However, that was very simple compared to what it is today. Creating the app taught me more than college ever did.
Version two was a lot of work and that’s when I started using it myself every day. I made my own keyboard using a custom word prediction algorithm.
Make expensive support affordable
I replaced something that costs almost €1,000 with something that costs €13. It was and is a lot of work. But I’m in full control. If I think a feature would be nice to have, I can have it in a few days.
Version 3 was about adding phrases. The ability to tap a button and say something is a big part of AAC.
Then I took a break for personal reasons. And because I could. The app was pretty polished. But I wasn’t happy with the design. So after about a year and a half I started working on version 4. It was just about making it look good and I added some features like folders for phrases.
Then I didn’t want to stop. It turned out to be a very good product. But there are many different levels of UK users. I would be a very advanced user. But not everyone is like me. Some require symbol-based communication.
I contacted a friend who is knowledgeable in the field of assistive technology. He referred me to Global Symbols where David Banes and I worked out a deal and now their version 5 symbols are available.
focus on the possibilities
Having a disability is tough. Society is unwilling to accept that you are just like everyone else. That you have the same needs and desires. That really annoys me. I have bad habits like everyone else.
I spent every day trying to exceed the expectations of others. It is easy. But that shouldn’t be. I want people to expect from me what they expect from the rest of society.
That’s one of the reasons I created the app. being able to prove people wrong. The ability to communicate so quickly and say, you know what, you’re wrong about me.
I have a son who is almost two years old. i have a business I go on dates. i am human I’m just like you. I just came with a larger manual. I could talk all day about how unfair life is.
no Instead, I will share with you my hopes for my business. I want to keep helping people who are in similar situations to me and the app gets better with each release.
It’s extremely difficult to break into the market because people are always going for the big companies’ offerings.
The app would be great for someone who has suffered a stroke. I’ve had users who had throat cancer and lost their larynx. It’s so rewarding to hear from users.
Happily lost in the code
My supervisors come at 9:30 in the morning to get me up. I get dressed, eat and drink the first of many coffees. Then I start work. I usually work on the next version of the app. These can be really small bug fixes or the next big feature. I have lunch at 1pm and then go back to work until dinner at 6pm. Then I start working again until I go to bed at 10pm.
I tend to focus on getting things done. I lost sleep because of new features. My work requires great attention to detail. People rely on the app to communicate every day, so it has to be perfect. I like to play Xbox from time to time. I watch so many movies.
My son Riley is more of an outsider. I’m still trying to teach him how his father speaks.
I like to take a night away every few weeks to regroup, usually going to Belfast.
That’s just me for now. I want to hire someone to help me with things like social media and marketing.
If I had my way, I’d just write code all day. But unfortunately I have to do everything. This is a one man show. I have to write all the information. I need to update the site. Just let me code!
I love creating things. I do this a lot and I love problem solving and my job involves a lot of that.
I’m happy? This is a loaded question. I only take it one day at a time.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/this-working-life-i-have-a-son-i-have-a-business-i-am-human-i-just-came-with-a-bigger-instruction-manual-41664332.html This work life – “I have a son, I have a business. i am human I just came with a larger instruction manual.