Q&A With Christopher Hills, Switch Accessibility and Video Production Engineer

Christopher Hills is a Switch Accessibility and Video Production Engineer based in Brisbane, Australia. He is a passionate storyteller, utilizing the power of video and technology to raise awareness around accessibility issues.  As a developer with Cerebral Palsy, Christopher is committed to exploring innovations in accessible technology through his company HandsOptional.

How did you get started in accessibility?

I started by doing what I love: film-making. I made a video and posted it online in answer to a question about accessible operating systems. It gained a surprisingly positive response and people have been approaching me ever since, asking me to tell my story and explain how technology has changed my life.

I think it is important to say that if it wasn’t for my Cerebral Palsy, I wouldn’t be doing accessibility. I started out as just an everyday geek who loved his Mac and film-making. I now run a business called HandsOptional and our goal is to help individuals and organisations understand the fast-moving mainstream technology space in the context of accessibility.

You are the owner of the Facebook Group HandsOptional.  Who is this targeted audience of this group and how are you contributing to conversations on inclusive design?

I started this group because there was no other support group that I knew of for Apple Switch Control users. Being a niche, there is still some confusion around that feature and I was receiving many questions and wanted a way to discuss how it works and how I use it. As soon as I started it, we had people coming in from all around the world and connecting, sharing and helping each other for the first time. We are now approaching 400 members and I am proud of how it is helping people.

The HandsOptional Facebook group is a very specific place where people can help each other with Apple Switch Control, but now that I have HandsOptional as a business, we are figuring out how to get more involved in public speaking and training around accessibility and inclusive design more generally. I think one of the benefits of being a switch user is I am out on a margin of accessibility so if I can access the technology I use, the idea is that anyone inside that margin can too. Anyone who is interested can go to my website at handsoptional.com (this is the first time I have announced this, but I wrote every line of the code using a single switch).

What is an accessibility barrier that you would like to see solved?

Communication has always been the biggest barrier for me. Computers have not yet been able to understand me when I speak. If I want to write something independently, I need to use a scanning keyboard and word prediction. This has come a long way, but it is still very time-consuming. I would like to see a way of making words that doesn’t require the use of speech or physical movements like typing or writing. I’m aware that there has been advancement in EEG technology. I have had a chance to try an EEG device, but that’s far from the stage where it will be able to convert thoughts into words. I’m looking forward to further advancement. For now, I have found that I can have a very strong voice through my YouTube channel. You can see lots of other videos I made there, but here is one that I made a couple of years ago to prove that the sky really is the limit:

 

 

I think one of the benefits of being a switch user is I am out on a margin of accessibility so if I can access the technology I use, the idea is that anyone inside that margin can too.

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