Meet Christopher Hills, a young man from Queensland who thought his body would always limit him.
Having Cerebral Palsy and being bound to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, Hills now says it’s only his imagination that’s the limit thanks to incredible technology that allows him to professionally edit video by tapping his head.
“I am a Toowoomba boy, but moved to the Sunshine Coast hinterland with my parents and younger sister about 10 years ago. I have Cerebral Palsy and am quadriplegic, but I feel like my disability has always taken a backseat to everything I do,” Christopher Hills told The Huffington Post Australia.
“I think I was four or five when the local Cerebral Palsy League gave us a computer for me to try out. My parents researched switch devices and settled on Discover Switch, made at the time by Don Johnson and Madentec.”
Switch devices allow users to re-network their computers or devices so they are able to use them in accordance with their ability.
“My first recollection of using the computer was reading eBooks with a very basic page-turning setup that had an arrow for turning the page forward and an arrow for turning back. I tried at first to use the switch with my foot, but this was not very reliable, so my parents strapped a small spec switch to my wheelchair headrest so I could control the switch by tapping it with my head. I had a very limited collection of eBooks. I did that for a couple of years, then, I remember learning to use a scanning keyboard setup on the screen and accessed Word to begin to type. I used it to type things such as Christmas cards for my family.”
From there Hills began to explore what else he was able to do on his computer, and a love affair with technology began.
“The interesting thing about the keyboard was that it had buttons for switching to different setups like a mouse setup, so I explored a bit on my own and figured out how to control the mouse when I was about six years old. It was then I started to explore more of what I could do with a computer. Before long, I was playing with different Windows themes and settings, customising everything. To this day, computers and all thing tech have played a bigger and bigger role in my everyday life. It is a good thing I like technology!”
During home school Hills discovered his talent for video editing, which gave him an avenue for expression.
“In home school in Grade 9 I did a course in video production in which I had to produce videos such as a TV commercial, an instructional video and a music video. That was my favourite subject at school. I had limited control of Sony Vegas movie studio at the time. I learned about story-boarding videos and directing shots because I couldn’t actually shoot them myself. I learned the beginnings of editing and found that I loved it and could be good at it. Dad had a video production business many years ago and he had some experience with this. His guidance helped me to get started and to learn many of the basics.”
“Video editing for me was an opportunity to be a storyteller, something I never imagined was possible because of my speech difficulties. After school, I decided to pursue this passion and study video production online with RMIT University,” Hills said.
From there Hills decided he wanted to run his own video editing business.
“I remember briefly thinking about what opportunities I might have to be employed as an editor but eventually decided it would be easier to employ myself, so Switched-On Video Editing was born. I guess I was a little bit afraid of what an employer might think if I asked for a job because of my disability. Running a business using social media is very cool because I can easily do international work.”
“My first project was for a Department of Queensland Health for a training video. Since then I have produced and edited videos for Control Bionics, Komodo OpenLabs, The Able Movement, and recently the NDIA,” Hills said.
Switch Control, a customisable feature from Apple, allows users to control their devices in various ways depending on their needs. For Hills, he is able to use his phone, computer and other devices by tapping his head.
“Switch Control is part of the accessibility preferences on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, and Apple TV. Similar to how VoiceOver enables users to interact with their devices without sight, Switch Control allows me to interact, all without touch. It is at the heart of everything I do. From communication and environmental control, to work and learning, recreation and entertainment. Combined with the internet it has allowed me to engage with the world more than ever before and to participate and contribute in ways that I never really thought would be possible.”
“With the support that Switch Control gives me, I have mastered the use of Final Cut Pro to the extent that I am now Apple Certified. When I first discovered Final Cut Pro X, I decided that it was the video editor I wanted to use because of features like the magnetic timeline which dramatically speeds up the editing process and when you do everything with a switch this is a very good thing. So I trained myself in using it with online courses from Apple Certified trainers. Once I thought I had enough training and experience, I took the Final Cut Pro Certification test. All of this was possible using a single switch on my head-rest.”
As for running his business, Hills finds he can do most things thanks to technology.
“I meet and communicate with clients through social networks, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube where I find very few communication barriers, unlike non-electronic communication. Email and these social networks are my channels of communication. If I need to speak on the phone or face to face, I need to have somebody with me such as dad, to translate, but fortunately this is usually not the method I need to use because almost all my work is done online.
“Clients send me material via the cloud and I return it the same way. I do need to employ someone to do camera work or audio recording, paper-handling, etc, but then everything is electronic after that and so I can do almost all of it myself. As well as my video-editing services, I am part of the Apple Consultants Network and regularly consult to individuals and organisations about the technology I use everyday. This is a rapidly growing part of my business. The technology that I use has allowed me to come out of my shell and make my own way in the world. These advancements mean that I am now able to have private conversations with people, no longer needing a Carer to be typing on my behalf,” Hills said.
Too humble to brag, Hills has even done some work with a Canadian astrophysicist, experimenting with Switch Control on a glove to make it easier for astronauts to use iPads when they’re wearing bulky space-suits in zero gravity.
Hills credits the Switch Control technology with giving him independence, purpose and importantly, a way to make an income.
“This year, one of the biggest updates for me is a new Switch Control feature called Platform Switching. It enables me to control multiple devices around my home and office using just one device. For example, I have one switch that I use with my iPhone and now I can use this same switch to control my iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. With this I can move around the home and ‘pick-up’ and ‘put-down’ devices as I need them, just like anyone else. This has changed the way I interact with technology and therefore the world. It is another step towards independent living,” Hills said.
“With Switch Control, I am still limited. But it’s no longer my body that limits me; It is only my imagination. There has never been a more exciting time to have a disability. Technology is at the heart of the modern world. It has never been easier, to make a valuable contribution to society, regardless of your abilities.”
For those wanting to learn more about Switch Control, Hills has co-authored a book about it which is free on the iBooks Store. He is also happy to be can also be contacted via Twitter (@iAmMaccing).
By Leigh Campbell
Head of Lifestyle, HuffPost Australia