True magic happens when we’re made to reconsider the realm of what is possible, and in the case of Todd Stabelfeldt, the iPhone helps make magic every single day. After an accidental gunshot from an antique rifle left him a quadriplegic at the age of eight, Stabelfeldt is no stranger to overcoming adversity. Though he’s wheelchair-bound and paralyzed from the neck down, that hasn’t stopped him from founding his own consulting and database management company, serving as the VP of operations for a medical management systems company, or from starting his own foundation and engaging in multiple public speaking gigs, writing books, and teaching. And while the vast majority of Stabelfeldt’s achievements are a product of his own genius, he’s had a bit of help over the last few years from one very distinctive iPhone feature — the Switch Control.
Described by Apple as a tool that allows you to “control your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch using a single switch, or multiple switches,” you may know it as the feature you activate when your home or lock screen button doesn’t work anymore. But for individuals like Stabelfeldt, Switch Control makes the user experience as simplistic as possible.
“The basic technique is to use a switch to select an item or location on the screen, and then use the same (or a different) switch to choose an action to perform on that item or location,” explains Apple. Three basic methods are:
Apple’s Switch Control has given Stabelfeldt a new level of control over his life that he calls “mind boggling,” and while the entrepreneur previously depended upon computers for his work, he’s now an all-iPhone kind of guy. He was an early adopter of the Switch Control technology, which was first debuted in 2013, and has since played a key role in assisting the disabled with iPhone operations.
So what was the first thing Stabelfeldt ever used his newfound iPhone control to do? Send his wife a loving text, of course. “Tell my wife, ‘I love you,'” Stabelfeldt recalled saying in an interview with CNN. “I’m a grown-ass man. I want to tell my lady I love her.”
By Lulu Chang
October, 21, 2015
Todd Stabelfeldt is sending his wife a romantic text. He taps his chin on a button mounted on his wheelchair, then grins, pleased with his wooing.
A quadriplegic since he was 8, Stabelfeldt can't move anything below his neck. Now a 36-year-old engineer and business owner, he's turned his wheelchair into a powerful mobile communication hub using switches, a Bluetooth headset and an iPhone 6.
He averages a phone call every six minutes and sends more than 100 texts a day. He's not much for social media other than LinkedIn (LNKD, Tech30), but loves to check his elaborate smart-home set up, read books, listen to podcasts and look up recipes online. Frequently outside on the move, he uses the Strava app to track how many miles he racks up.
Stabelfeldt accomplishes some of this with Siri and the rest by tapping the physical buttons and a joystick mounted on his wheelchair near his head. He is able to control the entire iPhone interface, thanks to an iOS setting called Switch Control.
Also known as switch access, it's an accessibility feature for people with physical disabilities who can't use a touchscreen in the traditional way. It turns a complicated user interface into something that can be controlled with basic inputs.
At its simplest, Apple's (AAPL, Tech30) Switch Control works by automatically cycling through the elements on an iPhone screen. A blue outline moves on its own between the apps or menu options. When it hits the desired spot, users trigger their "switch" to select it. The same system works with a keyboard and auto-suggest to type out text.
The setting is hugely customizable to accommodate a wide variety of needs and situations. A switch might be something external like a button or breathing tube, or the entire touchscreen itself can become a simple switch and the front-facing camera can detect left or right head movements. It can be set up to work with just one switch or as many as the user wants.
A self-described geek, Stabelfeldt has 12 switches. With practice, the switches can be as speedy as any collection of shortcuts. Watching Stabelfeldt use his iPhone is a blur of apps opening and closing, texts and emails coming and going.
"It's mind boggling to be able to use a smartphone to be in charge of one's story," said Stabelfeldt. "To not need somebody else to be in charge."
Independence has been hugely important to Stabelfeldt since the day his young cousin accidentally shot him with an antique rifle. At 16, the C4 quadriplegic moved out of his parents' house, eventually getting a degree and becoming a software engineer.
Switch access on computers is not new, but it has only recently been built in to touchscreen smartphones. Apple (AAPL, Tech30) added its Switch Control to iOS 7 in 2013. Google (GOOG) brought switch access to Android 5.0 in 2014.
Until a year and a half ago, Stabelfeldt mostly used computers for work. Now, his phone has become his primary work device. He uses it to run his business managing remote servers and work on a foundation that helps those with disabilities find independence through technology.
His favorite part of the iPhone isn't work, but connecting with his family. After he first set up his phone, Stabelfeldt used Siri to send a quick text to his wife.
"Tell my wife, 'I love you,'" Stabelfeldt recalled saying. "I'm a grown ass man. I want to tell my lady I love her."
By: Heather Kelly
October, 21, 2015
Meet Todd Stabelfeldt. He's been using Tecla since February 2014. We asked Todd to share with us his thoughts since introducing Tecla to his everyday life.
On his first thoughts about Tecla:
"This is going to change everything. It’s a game-changer. This Tecla is off the hook.”
On his friend whom he introduced Tecla to:
“He’s a C2 quadriplegic and when I first met him he couldn’t talk. Everything was through his mom. And he’d never go outside because he was scared. Last summer he put over 1,000 miles on his wheelchair by himself because of his Tecla. Talk about a man being restored with dignity, right? And being a man; a man with a purpose. A man with respect. Give a man that and he’ll write books, make movies and solve wars.”
On his confidence and ability to communicate since using Tecla:
“My confidence was built around the durability of the product. It has a large battery. That’s great. I plug mine in. It always has to be working. I have a second one in my trunk of my wheelchair in the event this one fails. Because it’s now so important in my story. If the Tecla failed, I would be ruined. I have no way to communicate if the Tecla is not sound and pristine and cleaned and charged. So competence is built by demonstration. And Tecla has thoroughly demonstrated that the product is sound. So that’s a huge, huge deal.”
On his new interests and hobbies since using Tecla:
"I’ve been able to watch 14 other people explode with new activities (after introducing them to Tecla). Scrabba is an app that tracks your walking and running and bicycling. And I do that all through Switch Control. Same with my buddy who did the 1,000 miles last summer. So now you have quadriplegics out there moving around, driving around, using all these sort of cool apps to track progress. Pictures - now I can actually take pictures on my phone. That has actually been a lot of fun. What a world has opened in the space of independence and freedom. And being able to put me in a position of ‘normal.’”
On the greatest change he's seen in himself since using Tecla:
“A restoration. A man in progress. A man who deals in quality and integrity. A man who’s an artist. A lover. A friend. A dad. Dear god, did I ever think I would be a dad? No. I get to say, ‘hey Siri, tell my son: have you done your chores today? Tecla has given me the opportunity to be a human being. And to do life and to do life well. Tecla literally restored a human being’s life from depression, from drugs, from alcohol, from just absolute bottom of the barrel, given up on self, self-deprecating, butchering of one who never asked to be shot, who never asked to be disabled, who was a young, little 8-year-old boy, whose story in life got robbed because of an 11-year-old. Fast forward twenty-seven years - Tecla has made me a man.”
Learn more about Todd or visit the Todd Stabelfeldt Foundation.
Quadriplegic Todd Stabelfeldt wants to help others overcome their disabilities through technology. A model for independent living
Like many others in his line of work, Todd Stabelfeldt grew up with technology.
He watched with interest as the Internet took off in the 1990s, and quickly developed a liking for computers.
Eventually he plugged in, taking classes and landing a job at Cortex Medical Management Technology, a Seattle software company.
“I’ve wanted to reach out since I was a young kid,” said Stabelfeldt, who at 29 is now Director of Operations at Cortex.
It is that impulse – the desire to connect – that in part influenced Stabelfeldt’s career choice and his interest in gadgetry.
But he has an equally pressing personal motivation to remain on the cutting edge.
As a quadriplegic, it is technology, combined with initiative and ingenuity, that affords Stabelfeldt his most prized possession — independence.
“That’s a word that for me that is bold, italicized, underlined and capitalized,” said Stabelfeldt, surrounded by the various devices at his Wyatt Way apartment that allow him to work and live, for the most part, on his own terms. “There’s no dollar amount to solve for that.”
Neither, he said, are there enough dollars to solve the plight, however uncommon, of someone in his position – physically disabled, but able and preferring to work.
Though he strives toward independence, living in a standard apartment with a roommate, Stabelfeldt still requires care that isn’t getting any cheaper.
In fact, he expects his care costs this year to double, to $110,000, due to recent changes – his caregivers can no longer be designated as independent contractors – that will require him to pay higher taxes.
He makes too much money to qualify for government help, but not enough to pay for the support he needs.
So, even as he continues to pursue greater independence, he must continually fight to preserve what he has.
Now, through the creation of a foundation that will bear his name, he wants to help others facing similar challenges.
Funded by several technology companies, the Todd Stabelfeldt Foundation is slated to launch in the next few months. Its aim is to connect people with disabilities to new technology and other help that might otherwise elude them, and to reach out to occupational therapists in an effort to continually improve available care.
Stabelfeldt’s life, too, will be enriched.
By sharing his story, he hopes to become a national spokesman for overcoming disabilities; he’s even in discussion with an island developer about the possibility of building a customized condo that would serve as a model for disabled, but independent, living.
Stabelfeldt was recently the beneficiary of about $30,000 worth of new batteries that will back up the labyrinthine electrical system he’s fashioned in his apartment. Donated by power system company Chloride Group, PLC, the batteries will replace the outdated and underpowered ones that can no longer keep up with Stabelfeldt’s gadgets. Without proper backup, Stabelfeldt’s entire system – including the breathing apparatus he uses when he sleeps – are useless if power outages occur.
Chris Gerhardt, who lives on Bainbridge Island, is helping Stabelfeldt organize the new foundation. He said it needs between $1 million and $2 million to get off the ground.
Several tech companies – among them Chloride and Internet technology consulting company Denali Advanced Integration, of which Gerhardt is the president – have committed funding to the foundation, the logistics for which are now mostly in place.
Its mission, Gerhardt said, is far reaching.
“This isn’t just about Todd,” he said. “This is about sharing what Todd has done.”
As a fellow techie, Gerhardt is impressed with Stabelfeldt’s resolve and resourcefulness; as his friend, he is inspired.
“Sometimes I’ll start to complain to Todd about something, and then I think about it and realize I can’t,” he said. “I joke with him about it. I tell him it’s hard being friends with someone you can’t complain to.”
Stabelfeldt admits he’s not been immune to the urge to complain, since suffering the injury – he was accidentally shot by his cousin at the age of 8 – that robbed him of most physical movement.
He remembers one time in particular, when he was a child, that he was upset by a bed sore.
“I got really angry about my whole situation,” Stabelfeldt said. “There was a moment when I said, ‘What are you going to do with this. This is not acceptable. I need to make a change.’”
So, Stabelfeldt shifted his attitude.
He began looking for way to complete the daily tasks that most people take for granted, like turning on lights or opening doors. Some fixes were simple. Others required elaborate planning. He adapted parts to non-conventional uses. If he couldn’t find the right piece, he called around until he did.
Slowly, solutions came, until eventually Stabelfeldt had created the ever-evolving system that now is vital to his independence.
“Part of it was just waiting for technology to catch up with my needs,” he said. “Items were being created at a rapid rate for convenience so that people could pick up a two liter of Coke and a bag of chips and never leave the couch.
“Those convenience items, if slightly augmented, become independence items for me.”
His cell phone, for example, is an off-the-shelf model. But Stabelfeldt had to come up with a way to modify it to fit his unique needs. Like all of his creations, the entire unit must be voice activated, or must respond to movements of his chin, breath or face. Compared to some of his projects, Stabelfeldt said, the cell phone modification was fairly simple. Unfortunately, simple doesn’t always equate to cheap – in this case, the fix cost several hundred dollars.
More complex arrangements are found at his workstation – Stabelfeldt still physically commutes to Seattle once a week – and in his bedroom, where he has access to more movies and entertainment than he has time to enjoy.
He controls his computer by way of his mouth, which he uses to move the mouse via a special instrument; puffs of air equal mouse-clicks.
Gerhardt, who met Stabelfeldt about four years ago during their respective ferry commutes, said he regularly marvels at his friend’s ingenuity.
“This doesn’t exist anywhere,” he said, of Stabelfeldt’s cell phone. “He came up with it in his head.”
Though he knows some of his innovations can help others, Stabelfeldt said not everyone can benefit directly from them. For one thing, he’s on the severe end of the paralysis spectrum; since many who suffer his specific injury don’t survive the initial trauma, there are few people who even face his living situation, let alone while trying to hold down a full-time job.
“My circumstance is so outside of the norm that I’ve almost fallen into the category of the bizarre,” he said. “That’s part of the frustration for me – I just can’t handle the fact that I’m the only one I know.”
Aside from making available some of his gadgets, Stabelfeldt hopes to motivate others with his story. He already participates in mentor programs and has increasingly taken on large speaking engagements. This year he spoke at the Denali Christmas party.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” said Denali Executive Vice President John Convery. “Seeing him in front of those people is tremendously inspirational. He teaches people that if they set the bar high and reach high they can improve the quality of their life.”
Last month, as workers were installing his new batteries, Stabelfeldt said he’s excited about the promise of his new venture.
As for his own troubled financial situation, he’s frustrated, but hopeful. Gerhardt has often said Stabelfeldt is a victim of his own success, since he’d rather work than be supported by the government. Not content to be a victim, Stabelfeldt characterizes the situation differently.
“Either this year I’ll make it or I’ll end up in a nursing home,” he said. “But I don’t settle. I don’t rest until it’s done.”