When You Share Your World, the World Shares You

Christopher HillsChristopher Hills has something to share:

“I recently made a video called One Switch. One Head. The World. This has inspired me to make some videos on how I interact with my computer and the Internet.”

At first glance that may not sound like much; plenty of people make videos about technology and post them online for the world to enjoy. Yet Christopher Hills is a young man living with a physical disability that makes it impossible for him to use his hands. Fortunately, the use of assistive software and hardware enable Hills to use his Macintosh. One of the tools Mr. Hills primarily uses is Discover Envoy:

“I discovered I could control the mouse with Discover and I started playing around with the settings and the look. That opened up a whole new world for me.”

In case you’re wondering, Mr. Hills has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is currently described by Wikipedia as “an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.” Not only is Mr. Hills deprived of the use of his hands, but he cannot walk nor communicate in a practical way orally. Yet Hills uses his computer to communicate through chat and social media platforms such as Google+. I was made aware of Christopher Hills when Chris Pirillo shared the video Hills had posted to YouTube a couple of weeks ago:

I asked Mr. Hills about his interest in technology, and he told me he currently uses Macs exclusively, but has some interest in Windows systems. When Windows Vista came out he recalls “being absolutely obsessed with the new look.” He loved Windows Aero (the graphical user interface introduced with Vista), but ultimately found the operating system lacking. “Vista was not so great after all,” he told me:

“We had to upgrade Discover Switch to run on Vista. That was Discover Pro 2.3. I came across MS Flight Simulator at this time which I could control in a basic way with my switch, using the mouse as a yoke and I loved it. I used to fly every day. I finally upgraded to Windows 7 which was very hard on my poor old tower.”

Christopher Hills' setup)Many people whine and groan about various aspects of operating systems: this one has a poor interface; this one doesn’t come with the software I wish it had; this one’s startup sound annoys me… Tell Mr. Hills about poor interfaces. This young man has overcome far greater obstacles than switching between Windows 8’s Aero and Metro views. He’s learned how to manipulate Final Cut Pro using nothing more than his head. Literally. (See video.)

In case you haven’t yet watched the video (or haven’t watched it until the end yet), Christopher Hills conceived, directed, and edited the entire video by pressing his head against a switch connected to his computer. The switch works in conjunction with software which enables Chris to operate his computer using a computer mouse-like emulator. Producing videos is not easy, especially of the quality this young man has delivered.

Christopher Hills' setupAfter watching one of Hills’ recent videos, fellow LockerGnome contributor Matt Ryan told me that “anyone who tackles technical work despite being dealt a rough hand is a hero and an inspiration. We have more than a few in our community, and it’s a testament to the idea that you’re only limited by your imagination in this technologically advanced world we live in today.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Matt. I can barely manage to get myself to transfer a few video files from my Flip camcorder and upload them to YouTube. My problem is not so much a disability as it is laziness (though you might call the sour moods that feed my laziness a disability). Despite (or perhaps due to) his condition, Christopher Hills seems to have been blessed with an immeasurable amount of patience. One of the common symptoms of cerebral palsy is fatigue, so it takes an extra amount of effort for this young man to perform many common tasks — much less direct, edit, and distribute a video project.

Christopher Hills' setupI’ve long lived with a palsy of unknown origin myself, driving many to wonder why I shake so. I often find it frustrating to explain to people that I have no idea why I shake — perhaps it is a neurological disorder, but I’ve been too afraid to undergo a proper examination — but unlike Mr. Hills, I tend to use my condition as an excuse for being lazy most days. I’m feeling exceptionally shaky today, I tell myself, I can’t get my work (or studies, or just about any exercise) done in the state I’m in.

Christopher Hills faces far greater obstacles than I do and overcomes them every single day of his life. Unlike many of us distressed by one condition or another, Hills focuses his energy on improving his life in the ways that he can — rather than allowing obstacles to run his life. In fact, Hills has ingeniously redirected his disability, employing it to reach out to others through his videos. His latest video project, titled Intersection: Where Technology and Disability Meet, is one in which he intends to further demonstrate the ways he interacts with his computer and the Internet:

In the process of producing these videos, he has not only inspired a great many of us who admire his courage and candidness, but he has made those of us interested in technology more tangibly aware of accessibility issues. He is also sharing his experience with others who may be interested in similar assistive solutions for their own needs. Christopher Hills is an ambitious young man, and though he may find it extremely challenging to accomplish everything he would like to do at this point in time, I believe this young man will one day be able to do anything he can imagine. He is not simply interested in editing video but has managed to develop a method for preparing for an IT certification:

A normal career in IT would be a bit tricky for me because I cannot use my hands and do any physical work, but I’m interested in maybe starting a website dedicated to disability and technology. One day I might travel around Australia reviewing disability access in hotels and public areas and publish my observations on a website/blog and maybe make it into a TV special.

As technology catches up to Hills’ imagination, more people living with cerebral palsy and other disabling conditions will find themselves less “disabled” and more “enabled”; perhaps one day cerebral palsy will be far less of an obstacle than it is today.

In the meantime, Mr. Hills does have one obstacle that he needs help in overcoming: the company that makes the assistive technology that enables the young man to interact with the world has stated it will no longer be upgrading the Mac version of its product. Mr. Hills is already unable to upgrade his Mac to the latest version of Apple’s operating system because the product is outdated and unable to run on the latest generation of Macs:

“One of the main problems with my setup is that Discover Envoy is a Rosetta application, which means I can only use it on Mac OS 10.6. I would love to upgrade to Mac OS 10.7 Lion and in the future keep upgrading, but I can’t because AbleNet, who I have written to, are not planning to upgrade Discover Envoy.”

Hills has looked into a similar solution offered by another vendor, but its design and features do not match the quality of Discover Envoy.

Since AbleNet doesn’t seem to want to step up to the plate, this is a prime opportunity for another company or an entrepreneur to step in to provide a solution for computer users in situations similar to that of Mr. Hills. In fact, Christopher Hills would make an ideal consultant for any group or individual seeking to develop assistive technologies — not only does Hills have firsthand experience with these types of tools, but he obviously is willing to share his views about them.

The question is, how does Christopher Hills share his experiences with those who can help? Mr. Hills has already got the ball rolling with his videos — perhaps we can help him continue to share his experiences by sharing his story. Watch his videos, and share them with everyone you know. I know I’m going to.

I encourage everyone to share suggestions, questions, concerns, and thoughts about this article — particularly if you have any interest in assistive technologies or accessibility in computing. Most of all, please share this article and share Christopher Hills’ videos!

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  • Timothy Gurguis

    nothing can tell anybody how freakin bad i feel for this kid, I wish the best luck for him.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001020557310 Zab Kas

    omg :(

  • Christopher

    Thank you everyone for enjoying my videos. Thank you to Harold for writing this excellent article. And thank you to Chris for helping me get the ball rolling. Christopher Hills from Down Under.

  • Jaeson

    It’s amazing the things people overcome, good job Christopher

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vitalik-Gr/1079241961 Vitalik Gr

    Cannot understand anything, respect to father

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      A prominent symptom of cerebral palsy is the loss of control of motor skills; thus the difficulty the young man has speaking. Are you able to read the subtitles in the video?

  • Jodiemcl

    You go Christopher… can’t wait to see what else you come up with :)

  • Bryan Miner

    Really makes you look around and be thankful for what you have, I took two years of FCP 7 training at my high school. I can’t imagine being in Christoper’s position and editing even in FCX let alone using a computer. He will be able to do anything he wants to in his life with his self drive. Props to the parents as well for supporting him.

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      Thanks for commenting. I was serious about barely being able to will myself to upload Flip video. It’s amazing what Christopher Hills is accomplishing. He is going to go far, indeed.

      And though I failed to mention the assistance his father provides him, I agree: props.

    • Annykraal

      Thanks Bryan for also mentioning his parents – they are amazing with their support and commitment.

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  • http://www.webvideochefs.com/ Amani Channel

    Great story Chris. It’s all about the story.  

  • http://www.webvideochefs.com/ Amani Channel

    My bad… Thanks for sharing Harold. This is a great story. 

  • Ali

    It’s amazing the things he is able to do, clearly he is a very motivated individual.. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be successful in what he’s trying to accomplish.. 

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  • Brandonragoo

    The things Christopher Hills lacks which most of us take for granted he makes up for in intelligence.

  • http://twitter.com/SASOGEEK Samuel Sowah

    Tells you how blessed able people are yet how lazy they are and what they can do. An inspiration to aim higher, there’s a lot to be done. Thanks for the article and I hope the world see’s this. :)

  • John

    I’m blind so can’t read the captions. I can’t understand him either. I should ask  someone to read them to me, I’m pretty curious.

  • http://twitter.com/TamaraRutter Tamara Rutter

    :) Thank you for sharing this video. I can’t imagine the courage and patience it took to make this and share it with the world. You are truly an inspiration to all. And Harold, thank you for the heartfelt coverage of this story.

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  • jacobbubble

    Pretty cool. Couldn’t he use an on-screen keyboard though? Obviously not as fast as his dad but still.

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      Oh, I’m sure that would work for some things (such as text messaging). 

  • Aiden

    You’re truly amazing and such an inspiration mate. :) Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Entryhacked

    God bless you.  Live on brotha and let the net be your playground.  You truly are living proof that where there’s a will there’s a way.  Also a lot of props to the parents, you guys are incredible.  Best of luck and hope to see more of you on the net.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/W3D6Q2MIQV2MS42PPFBOM5R3FU Mary B

    Christopher :)

    I  know your going to see your dreams happen.. I would enjoy watching any videos you make in the future,

  • Inbalancebydesign

    Great article Harold! Christopher is truly an inspirational young man! This helps remind us to push beyond our challenges, no matter how big or small. Thank you! :-)

  • http://FireYourBossProject.ORG/blog Sandor Benko

    How cool is that?!? Recount your blessings.

  • RaterKey

    Christopher Hills is an inspiration, he’s taken over as my favorite Apple fanboy on the planet. And that’s saying a lot, because now my second favourite Apple fanboy is Woz.

    Thanks for getting this video out a second time Chris and everyone else involved.

    It makes me really sad that people felt the need to troll Christopher. Cowards without a life.

  • Chris Nochance

    Guys, he doesn’t “want” props out of pity. He DESERVES props because of the accomplishments he’s achieved. If I could program for him I’d think upgrading his switch software would be at the top of my list to do to show props back to him. Unfortunately I don’t have the first foggiest. I’m spreading the link in circles that I think might help get the word out the fastest. I hope you are too??!!

  • http://www.bharatkumargupta.com/ Bharat Kumar Gupta

    the most inspiration geek on the planet is chris pirillo who has a heart and humanity to share stuff like this to us, lg ftw

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504413876 Carly Johnson

    Someone should find out from the company that puts out the product if it’s a matter of a financial issue that they are not putting out a new product. Money can be raised pretty easily. If money is the issue, a Kickstarter video would be a great way to help since Christopher is already making videos. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Devon-Day/1849647205 Devon Day

    This kid is simply… AMAZING!!!! I’m sorry for the hand he has been dealt in life. But, despite that, he is able to do things that myself, and most other people, take for granted on a daily basis. Thanks for sharing this article, and thanks Christopher Hills for sharing your videos with us! I sure hope that someone can help you on your quest to upgrade to a newer version of OS X. Hopefully someone will develop a similar product to help you conquer this obstacle soon.

  • http://innovativenurse.com/ Kevin

    A very inspiring story indeed. I’m amazed everyday by these individuals. 

    Keep spreading the word. I reached out to AbleNet with my own post that was inspired by Harold’s post here on Lockergnome. I just received this response on Twitter:

    @innovativenurse An update for #DiscoverEnvoy for #MacOSXLion is in development. Release date still TBD.

    Hope the “TBD” is in the near future, especially since Mountain Lion is around the corner. 

    Thanks again Harold for getting this story out there. 

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      That is awesome news, Kevin. Thanks a lot for taking the initiative to do that.

      • http://innovativenurse.com/ Kevin

        No problem brother. Advocacy is just something I do everyday. It’s great to add a tech component to it though. 

      • http://innovativenurse.com/ Kevin

        Just some additional advocacy measures for Christopher. I just want to make sure that AbleNet is in fact releasing support for Lion:

        • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

          Sharing this with the social networks I’m connected to!

  • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

    Intelligence, willpower, ambition, imagination — and exceptional parenting, it appears.

  • Daniel J.E.


  • Glenn

    really cool kid

  • http://mrvulcan.myopenid.com/ Bert Visscher

    I’m reading the articles, watching the videos, and spreading all as much as I can. You, Christopher, are amazing!

  • http://twitter.com/madhi19 John G

      This is why when software are abandoned they should be open sourced. Especially in critical need.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KMS2PO5MSTPEQ2RYVQVX7HNCEE Patricia

    I have a question for you. Do you have enough head control to use a head mouse? That technology has been around awhile. The infra red system with a reflective dot ( usually placed on the forehead) seems less cumbersome. It is also very stable and has come a long way in years. . Everyone has different abilities. Keep on learning and sharing with the world Christopher.   ck out flipstips.com  ( a very very computer savvy young man that also has CP shares his techno expertise)

  • Paul Hughes

    Finally, somewhere I can post a reply to Mr. Hills.

    I’ll try to keep it simple. 

    You are very inspirational. Your work is awesome, even without any disability I would think your work is great. I hope you continue to create the things your passionate about, as you’ve found at least one follower in myself! Great job kid – I can’t wait to see what you accomplish as you get older and learn more and more about computers.

    I wish I had the specialized knowledge and the funding to help create products that could help individuals like yourself. (And, to help you specifically!) 

    I’d like to offer ANY help that I can offer, even though I don’t know what I have to offer as of right now. 😛 I’d love to talk to Mr. Hills, or just watch from afar. You are an awesome person! You help me see right past any of our differences… at heart we’re both just some dudes that love Apple products. 😛 (I have a stack of boxes much like yours!!) 

    I wish I could be that entrepreneur that could help product a product to enable you to do more of… what you do.

    HOW can I be that person!?! Whoever puts this together, hire me! 😀 I’d love to change my life to help people.

    paulie420@gmail:disqus .com