Touch screen devices are a way of life for many of us. We use them not only to be productive, but also for entertainment (watching videos, playing games), tracking expenses, shopping online, reading news – you name an activity, and it’s highly likely that these devices can help us accomplish it. Touch screen devices are extremely easy to use for people who can use their fingers to interact with the screen, but what about people who cannot use their hands? What about those with motor skills issues, or amputees? Yes, they can use speech to open and close apps, and to write text, but can they use speech to text to play games? Or to navigate a website like etsy.com to shop for accessories for their new apartment? It becomes even more difficult when the user cannot use speech either.
I received an email from Lizanne Svane on a Saturday morning in August, telling me briefly about TubusOne, a product she invented a few years ago along with her partner Asbjørn Houmøller Eliasen. She was going to visit Minneapolis for a conference in September, and was wondering if we could meet. Naturally, the first thing I did was look up TubusOne. Within a couple of minutes, I responded with a “yes, we should meet”!
TubusOne Is a low tech assistive technology device that is meant to provide independence to people who have difficulty using touch screen devices either because of missing limbs, motor issues, or other disabilities. Basically, it is a thin tube that works on the “sip & puff” principle. A plastic mouthpiece on one end fits very comfortably into the mouth. Once in the mouth, gently puffing into the mouthpiece launches the attached “touchfunction” from the other end. The touchfunction is made of soft silver woven fibers and hits the touch screen. The impact is extremely gentle, yet strong enough to make an impact and register a “touch” on the screen, just like a finger’s touch. Simply puffing and sipping into the mouthpiece moves the touchfunction in and out, and the user can use it on any part of the screen to perform various functions. It can be used on a keyboard to type, to click around on a website, play games, operate controls to watch videos, and do many other things. In essence, it is an easy to use, extendable finger that allows full control of the touch screen.
A month later, I met Lizanne on an extremely and unusually hot day in Minneapolis. She was kind enough to not only answer my questions, but also bring a TubusOne for me to try. Setting it up was a breeze – all you really have to do is attach the mouthpiece to one end of it, and you are good to go! Although TubusOne is a simple, low tech solution, it is definitely sturdy, and a well crafted device. You can tell by just holding it in your hands that a lot of thought went into designing it. It has a metallic body, but is extremely lightweight. As I started using it, my initial thought was that maybe I will get tired of puffing into it but I was pleasantly surprised by how effortless using TubusOne was. The mouthpiece fit snugly in my mouth, and did not feel intrusive at all. I used it for a bit for typing, navigating, and scrolling up and down on a webpage, and was amazed by how easy it was to use. Besides the tube itself, the stand for it is pretty impressive and ingenious. It is placed right above the home button on the iPad. To start the iPad, you just press on the home button hard with the tube. When you need to take a break, you place the tube in the stand. Very convenient. I also tried it on my Surface Pro 3, and was met with the same, convenient performance. I was able to easily press the Start button, open OneNote, start a new page, and type a small note into it. Many offices have Windows computers, and TubusOne can make a person with disabilities much more productive in a work setting.
Lizanne was telling me about several people who have been using TubusOne for quite some time now. One story that stood out was about a woman who ordered all of her christmas gifts online using TubusOne, and her husband went and collected all those gifts from the post office. Another person uses TubusOne so much that he found a new social life on the internet through participation in a discussion forum about bulky waste, keeping himself updated on the local soccer teams, and reading debates on the MS Society’s website. Such stories go on to show that a product like TubusOne not only provides independence to people but also enhances their social lives, enhances camaraderie between loved ones, and provides more confidence and abilities to individuals to do things that they couldn’t do before.
It all started with Lizanne and her partner meeting someone who was paralyzed from the neck down. The very next day, Asbjørn was ready with a prototype for TubusOne! Lizanne quit her job as a cyber security expert a few years ago, and has since dedicated herself to make sure that she reaches out to people with disabilities with TubusOne. Lizanne clearly came across as a very ambitious woman with a very clear vision. She wants to collaborate with other inventors, and form a community that will help everyone learn from each other.
To learn more about TubusOne, be sure to check out TubusOne’s website.