He’s helped people suffering from paralysis to communicate and create with just their eyes, he’s established the world’s first 3-D printing prosthetic lab and training facility in war-torn Sudan, now Mick Ebeling and his Not Impossible wizards have given a man suffering from ALS the ability to say “I love you” to his wife and family for the first time in 15 years.
Not long ago, after Lorraine Moir heard a radio story about Ebeling and The Eyewriter, she decided to contact him about trying to help her husband Don, who has ALS and hasn’t been able to speak since 1999. Ebeling, in a partnership with HP as part of the brand’s #BendTheRules campaign, and his Not Impossible Labs team stepped up to the challenge.
“I thought this was an incredible opportunity for us to continue the inspiring work that we had started with [with Eyewriter] but for an entirely different reason,” says Ebeling. “Every project we do at Not Impossible is difficult, and not to be cliche, but failure is not really an option for us. How can we say to someone, ‘Sorry, we can’t do it. it’s not possible?’ We can’t say that. We don’t know how to.”
Led by Javed Gangjee, a Not Impossible volunteer since 2011 (after seeing Ebeling’s TED talk), they used an HP x360 Convertible PC and SpeakYourMind Foundation software to develop a simple interface that replicated a paper letter board Don had been using to communicate.With it, Don was able to independently write a love letter to his wife and audibly say “I Love You, Lorraine” for the first time since 1999.
But it wasn’t easy. When Gangjee first met Don, he went with an openly available program that anyone who uses computers on a daily basis could figure out in a matter of minutes. But Don had never used a computer. Gangjee asked Don to give him another chance to go back to the drawing board. “I actually had no idea how I’d make it work,” says Gangjee. “But in the spirit of the Not Impossible, I knew the first step to solving a problem is committing to it. It may take years or decades or the rest of your life to solve, but the solution was inevitable. I’m just happy he gave me another chance.”
His first step was to forget everything about technology geared to the rest of us, instead putting himself in Don’s shoes. “I realized that the only way we were going to make this work was if we could use the abilities he had today, instead of forcing something complicated on him that he would take weeks to learn,” says Gangjee. “So I replicated the way he spoke for the last 15 years in this simple program.”
It’s another great brand partnership for Not Impossible, who teamed with Intel for Project Daniel last year. HP is tying the heartwarming story of “Don’s Voice” to Valentine’s Day with the #VoiceYourLove hashtag.
As with all Not Impossible projects, the organization is aiming to take a solution for one person and make it available to many. The same technology used to help Don will be distributed as freeware, and Windows users will be able to download the software online. Gangjee’s team at SpeakYourMind is building an open sourced UI platform called SYMple that they hope to release this summer.
“Any patients with ALS or any other paralysis that limits their motor skills to ocular movement can use this technology just like Don,” says Ebeling. “ALS patients have the potential to regain so much independence from this technology. They will be able to email their friends, build community, and foster relationships in ways they couldn’t before.”