Adding Christopher's voice to a new way of life
CHRISTOPHER Hills spent his early childhood trapped inside his severely disabled body, barely able to speak and communicate his brilliant mind to a world he was intimately conscious of.
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy, his future appeared to be confined to a wheelchair and at odds with a society he was perfectly able to understand, as there has never been anything wrong with Christopher's mind.
It's just his body, twisted and distorted from the athetoid cerebral palsy and quadriplegia, that would always struggle to keep up. But computers - specifically the genius of Apple computers - have changed everything.
The Landsborough resident has been given a clear, fluent voice - albeit computer-generated.
He has also been able to pursue his passion for video producing and editing, all done from a switch on the back of his wheelchair he controls with his head.
Christopher has become so masterful on his Apple Mac he has qualified as an "Apple-Certified Professional in Final Cut Pro X".
He has also completed Video Production with RMIT University and started his own business, something his parents Garry and Tamara would never have dared to dream of when he was young.
He has his own YouTube following and has been selected as an Accessibility Ambassador.
Christopher held an email-generated Question and Answer session with the Daily in which he explained how his life has changed.
When did you start to get involved in computers?
I started with a desktop PC, controlling it with a great big switch on the floor which I tapped with my foot. This was not very successful, so we tried a number of things, ranging from a trackball to an eye-tracker and finally settled on a switch strapped to my head rest. Mum and dad set me up with my first computer, running Windows 2000.
For the first few months, the only thing I did on it was type in 'Word' using a scanning keyboard set-up. After a while, I got bored with this and started to explore what other things the Assistive software could do.
I found a mouse set-up which had four buttons for moving a mouse left, right, up and down, and all the clicks and drag functions. I started exploring, using this set-up, when I eventually found the Windows control panel and the themed settings and became obsessed with changing the look and feel of Windows. This was when I was five or six.
By the time I was 14 I was using Windows 7 and I was connected to the internet. That's when I discovered Apple through podcasts and reviews about various products.
I fell in love with the way the Mac looked and worked, so my move to Apple didn't actually have anything to do with Assistive technology. However, since then I have experienced more of Apple's approach to accessibility, especially over the past 12 months when they have added Switch support for Macs and iOS devices and am very happy with the way it is heading.
Can you describe your life for me before computer technology? Did you feel lonely, trapped?
Growing up I didn't have many expectations on what I could do so I wasn't disappointed if I found that I was unable to do something physically. I used to sit in my wheelchair making up stories in my head.
One time dad asked me what I was thinking, and I said "I'm landing a jet plane at Sydney Airport". I was able to use my imagination beyond the limitations of my body.
When I began using technology, it gave me new abilities and as it evolves it continues to set me even more free. For example, I can now land a plane using a Flight Simulator program on my computer.
Did you complete school? If so, how? Where?
My parents home schooled me from kindergarten through to Grade 12 using the Brisbane School of Distance Education. They did apply to a Special School in Toowoomba, but the principal said I would be too limited. The mainstream schools did not have enough funding to support my education properly. The technology of my early schooling years was very limited, so my parents and tutors had to act as scribes for all my school work. I didn't really learn to read or write fluently until I began typing for myself on the computer.
Where do you live? How do you find accessibility on the Sunshine Coast?
Garry (dad and carer) writes: Holiday apartments, shops, restaurants and so are often inaccessible. We carry our own portable ramp in order to negotiate low steps or kerbs, but this is so
metimes unsafe to do. It is common to find designated disabled parking spaces occupied by cars without disability parking permits. We never know until we arrive somewhere whether or not we will be able to gain access.
Me (Christopher): Internet out here in the hinterland is not quite up to the speeds that I require for my work. That does tend to hold me back, both in work and communication.
Tell me about your family, do you have brothers and sisters? Are you all very close?
My dad is my full-time carer, and mum is an emergency nurse at Nambour Hospital. I have a younger sister, Catherine, who is in Grade 12. When Catherine was little, she always understood my speech better than anyone. She used to be my body in some ways, when we made up games together. I would tell her what to do. We are a very close family and spend a lot of time together.
I'd like to know from your mum and dad what internet technology has meant for them in being able to communicate with you?
Garry (Christopher's dad and full-time carer): Technology has opened up avenues for Christopher to express and develop his abilities, in spite of his disabilities. It has put the focus on his abilities rather than his disabilities.
Tell me about some of the projects you've worked on, and what your future goals are?
I have started my own video-editing business, called Switch-On Video Editing. I love doing post-production editing using Final Cut Pro X. I have created a series of YouTube videos about the intersection between technology and disability. I have also produced videos for the Able Movement, Queensland Health, and Control Bionics to name a few.
I'm a proud Accessibility Ambassador, and love helping other people access technology to overcome their disabilities.
For example, I recently wrote a guest blog post for ATMac describing how a person with visual impairment can access an iPhone and iPad without needing to see or touch the device. http://atmac.org/ios-switch-control-for-vision-impaired-users
I would love to be part of producing a full-length feature film one day.
Who has been an inspiration to you?
I am inspired by Steve Jobs and have read his biography multiple times. He believed that anyone should be able to access technology, and he instilled this in Apple in many ways. The fact that Apple devices are accessible right out of the box is largely due to this philosophy.