Google Glass Helping Paralyzed Woman Experience Life

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-08-12

Google Glass Helping Paralyzed Woman Experience Life

Google Glass is in the midst of being tried out by several thousand "Explorer" users in the last few months, but there may be no users more affected by the use of Glass than early adoptees with physical disabilities.

One such user, Alex Blaszczuk, a young woman who became a quadriplegic after a 2011 car accident, was selected earlier this year by Google to participate in the company's Google Glass Explorer Program, which allowed prospective users to submit ideas for why they should be chosen to buy and test out one of the first Glass devices. Blaszczuk's entry was selected from the thousands of submissions to the #ifihadglass competition.

For Blaszczuk, who can't use her arms, hands and legs since the car crash, Glass has opened up many new horizons, despite the presence of her physical disabilities, according to the Google's Google+ page.

"Meet +Alex Blaszczuk: Glass Explorer, law student and owner of a 20lb cat," says the post. "In the fall of 2011, a car accident en route to a celebratory camping trip left Alex paralyzed from the chest down, unable to use her hands. Last month, Alex finally made it camping and shared her story #throughglass."

The accompanying film on the Google+ page was taken using Google Glass, as Blaszcuk gives visitors a look into her physical recovery and everyday life since the accident.

"+Alex Blaszczuk  inspired us from day one with her #ifihadglass application," Google wrote on its Glass Google+ page. In her application for the Explorer program, Blaszczuk wrote: "I am a New Yorker, a law student, a quadriplegic. #ifihadglass I could finally capture my life on my own. I would show the world how to thrive with physical limitations in the most interesting city on the planet. With Glass, paralysis doesn't have to be paralyzing."

Since getting Glass, Blaszczuk took a camping trip with a group of friends, and she wore the device to share her experience. The camping video she took with Glass is posted on the Website of the Alex Blaszczuk Trust that was established in her name, and it portrays how she is able to take photos, act as the trip navigator and share in more experiences through her use of Glass. The camping trip was similar to the one she was heading to when the car accident occurred and changed her life back in 2011.

"On our whirlwind camping trip, and beyond, I have used Glass to take pictures, record videos, find directions, search for facts, and dictate emails and text messages," Blaszczuk wrote in a post on the Trust Website. "I also have several times affirmatively answered the absurd question 'are you calling me from your glasses?' For me, this is all much easier (or possible) only with the voice-activated, hands-free device."

Her experiments with the device continue. "Google Glass doesn't somehow 'fix' a disability," she wrote. "But, it is a more accessible tool for self-expression. For communities that are often silent, hidden, marginalized—like that of people with disabilities—these kinds of tools are essential. The more we enable people with disabilities to share their stories and passions, the more they become people, rather than tragic or heroic stereotypes. For me, Glass has also been an incentive to explore—even if I don't always share with the world, simplifying the logistics of my adventures makes me want to have more of them.

"And," she continued, "I'm lucky—I have friendships and community support that motivate me to apply to be an Explorer, run fundraising campaigns, and fight for whatever dreams I had before my injury. But disability affects many people already hindered by circumstance. And while I am still fighting my own battle to get back on track, I look forward to being a lawyer, activist, and voice in the push to end marginalization."

Google Glass Helping Paralyzed Woman Experience Life

Blaszczuk is just one of many disabled users who are finding ways to use Glass in their lives, according to Google. People with visual and hearing impairments are also using Glass as Explorers and are finding innovative uses that are helping them, the company said.

Google Glass has been a topic of conversation among techies since news of it first arrived in 2012. The first Google Glass units began shipping in April 2013 to developers who signed up at the June 2012 Google I/O conference to buy an early set for $1,500 for testing and development, where it was the hit of the conference. Google also then began shipping Glass units to lucky users who were selected in the #ifihadglass contest for the opportunity to buy their own early versions of Glass.

In February 2013, Google expanded its nascent test project for its Glass eyewear-mounted computer by inviting interested applicants to submit proposals for a chance to buy an early model and become part of its continuing development. In March, Google also began notifying a pool of applicants who were selected to purchase the first 8,000 sets of Google Glass when they become available for real-world use and testing later this year by consumers. Those selected applicants have been receiving their units in waves.

Each Google Glass device includes adjustable nose pads and a high-resolution display that Google said is the equivalent of a 25-inch high-definition screen from 8 feet away. The glasses also feature a built-in camera that takes 5-megapixel photos and video at 720p. Audio is delivered to wearers through their bones, using bone-conduction transducers.

Google Glass isn't yet ready for the general public, but sales of the devices are now expected to begin sometime later this year. That's at least months earlier than the 2014 retail debut the company had been targeting since last year, a source inside Google told eWEEK. The source would not elaborate on why the retail launch schedule is being moved up.

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