the surprised pessimist

"I'm not interested in blind optimism, but I'm very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, 'This is not enough.'" Colum McCann


Getting to Know Switch Control

Apple has given my son a hand!

The human hand is a wondrous piece of engineering. Imagine where you’d be if you were suddenly without yours.

thumbs-up-signThink of the language we use: reach out, lend-a-hand, hands-on, get a grip, hand-out, handy, a handful, hands-free, hand-over, hang-on, hold on, at your fingertips, in the palm of your hand, second-hand, hand-me-downs, high-five, point-the-finger, thumbs-up, let your fingers do the walking, etc.

There are about 1,000 minutes in a waking day. I wonder how many of those minutes involve you using your hands…

…Grasping, gripping, holding…

…Making, fixing, building…

…Driving, working, writing…

…Caressing, fondling, stroking…

…and I wonder how you’d take care of yourself, earn a living, express yourself, interact with others, follow your dreams, live, if you had no use of your hands.

I don’t have to imagine what this is like. I have experienced it daily through my son, whose quadriplegia means that his strong, well-formed hands are quite useless. Well, perhaps not totally useless. As a diabetic, he needs several blood-glucose tests a day, and his fingers get regularly stuck with needles. But that’s all they are good for.

Then, surprise, surprise, into our lives comes Apple.

Did you know that every Apple device – Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Apple Watch – is engineered with a powerful suite of Accessibility features? One of those features – Switch Control – is for people who have some form of physical impairment, such that they find it difficult or impossible to touch a screen or type on a keyboard or handle a remote control.

Using Switch Control, and tapping a small switch with his head, my son tweets, texts, types emails, makes FaceTime calls, operates the TV, studies at university online, runs a video-editing business using Final Cut Pro on his Mac, plays games, listens to music, turns on lights and air-conditioners in the house and even pilots a drone!

And there’s a new feature in iOS10 and MacOS Sierra called Platform Switching. This enables a Switch Control user to ‘pick up and put down’ various Apple devices around the home and office and control them from one device; in Christopher’s case, his wheelchair-mounted iPhone is now his universal remote controller and switch interface.

If you’re a Switch Control user and you haven’t tried Platform Switching, here’s a quick video I made, showing you how to activate it.

I never thought such things would be possible. I’m a pessimist, so I’m surprised!

The Quadriplegic Pilot



When my son, Christopher was very young, he enjoyed remote-controlled vehicles. Trucks, cars, whatever.

The only problem was…he had to rely on his old man to operate the controller. Joysticks are not made for those who have no use of their hands. We had a lot of fun – him directing,  me driving. Even when I managed to drive his first monster truck straight into our goldfish pond, we had fun. Good memories.


Any parent will understand that the memories are also bitter/sweet. If only he’d been able to take over the controls and have a go himself. Imagine the fun I would have had watching him crash into the pond!

Oh well. You learn how to ‘work around’ all kinds of situations when you live with cerebral palsy.

Anyway, yesterday, we discovered that may all be about to change. Using a combination of an iPad – the most accessible device on the planet – and the DJI Phantom 4 drone quadcopter (with a little help from me setting up the waypoints) Christopher got his first taste of piloting his own remote-controlled craft.

I never thought such things would be possible. I’m a pessimist, so I’m surprised!

Here’s a quick, very basic video to show what happened. Stay tuned. MUCH more to come. 🙂

A Quick Look at Recipes

Moving at a glacial pace (a bit like our internet) I am gradually working towards producing an on-going series of short videos about Switch Control and other assistive technologies. My plan is to have a series of 3-4 minute videos under the title “A Quick Look” and an accompanying series of longer (5-10 minute) instructional videos on the same topics, entitled “A Closer Look.”

Here is my first video – A Quick Look at Recipes. Feedback most welcome. I hope the content is helpful?

The Best Hands-Free Device Hands-Down

I made this short video to send to the guys at Komodo Open Labs in Canada as a user-testimonial for their magic little ‘Tecla Shield’ Bluetooth Switch Interface.

Tecla Shield

As a parent and carer, I can say that the Tecla has made a huge difference in my life; because it’s made a huge difference in my son’s life.

I am very grateful for the Tecla Shield because it is the only device I know of that gives him reliable, wireless access to his Mac and iPhone.

Think of the Tecla as a device that enables a person who has NO HANDS to access a Mac or iPhone and do exactly the same things that can be done by someone who does have use of their hands. A Tecla works like a touch-screen or a wireless keyboard – ever used a touch-screen device? brilliant! ever used a bluetooth keyboard? also brilliant! But what if you had no hands?

Think of tapping a switch like tapping your fingers on a computer keyboard or tapping on a touch-screen device (although, let’s be honest here – when I say ‘computer’, I mean ‘Mac’, and when I say ‘touch-screen device’, I mean ‘iPhone’ or ‘iPad’, because; frankly, PCs won’t talk very nicely to my son. But Macs do! Other phones won’t talk very helpfully to my son, but iPhones do!  Only Apple devices have this free in-built feature – it’s called Switch Control.)

With the little blue and orange box in his wheelchair backpack, my quadriplegic son is enabled, through Apple Switch Control, to make connections with the world…literally. Without the use of his hands, he nevertheless opens and closes doors,  edits video, turns on his office air-conditioner, chats to friends, makes phone calls, listens to music, completes university courses, runs his own business, etc, etc, etc.

The Tecla Shield – a cute little box with a funny name. Where would we be without it!

Getting to Know Switch Control

Just a placeholder for now while I work up some short learning packages to help parents, carers and other professionals involved in the lives of people with disabilities to get the hang of Switch Control.

In the meantime, have a look at some examples of what Switch Control has made it possible for my son, Christopher to achieve. He produced and edited this 3 minute video using a single switch. (Link shared with permission).


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