alexander freeman and the ESMA AT team hold a large device that he uses to control computers

Goal: Alternative Way to Access Laptop; Ability to Communicate and Work Faster

Alexander Freeman, an award-winning filmmaker and disability rights activist with cerebral palsy, navigates life with strong determination despite his physical limitations. His journey intersected with Easterseals Massachusetts as a child through his college years and then again as an adult.

Alex started working with ESMA in the seventh grade through partnerships with the Brookline Public Schools and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). Then, an ESMA AT Specialist created a modified joystick to move with his chin, and a switch to click with his knee to select letters on an on-screen keyboard. This device opened his world to writing poetry, songs, and scripts, eventually leading him to success in directing documentaries and feature films.

In 2022, Alex was referred to ESMA again through the MRC AT Independent Living Program. He wanted to explore other innovative solutions to use his laptop to communicate and work faster as the joystick was no longer keeping up with the pace of his work. He was set up with a Blue2 switch to navigate his iPhone, using his foot and knee to scan and select items quickly. AT Specialist Kathie S. recognized Alex’s resourcefulness and success in using his feet to access technology. She researched existing devices in the market and realized that a specialized product needed to be created. She enlisted the support of fellow AT Specialist, Tiffany M., a Biomedical Engineer. Together, with Alex, they began designing a “foot access floor trackpad.” The team developed and tested several prototypes and reached a point where they needed advanced sensors and coding to allow Alex to use swiping motions for accurate and complete control of his computer. This is when they applied to and were accepted into the 2022 Microsoft Hackathon.

Additional AT Specialists, Microsoft Engineers and Programmers, and Alex, collaborated to produce a groundbreaking innovation tailored to Alex’s unique needs, with the idea that this device could be modified to help others needing similar accessibility for independent use of technology. “The idea is to give those with disabilities a new way to use the computer without just using their hands,” said Alex.

In February 2023, the team was thrilled to present Alex with the first-generation device, aptly named, “The Free-Man.” Alex’s excitement grew with each prototype iteration and now with an actual floor trackpad to test, his vision for more control of his computer is nearing reality. “I really like how the Easterseals staff took the time to get to know me and my needs and involved me in the development process to create the right technology,” added Alex.

The latest version of The Free-Man is currently being refined with the addition of a Wacom drawing tablet and a stylus sewn into a sock. The device allows Alex to utilize his creativity freely without being limited by physical challenges. Through ESMA’s expertise, Microsoft’s help, and Alex’s positive outlook and resilience, this story is a testament to the transformative power of technology, paving the way toward a more accessible future for all.

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