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For individuals with paralysis, Google Nest gives help at home

July 26th, 2019

Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Garrison Redd, who shares how his Google Home Mini helped him regain independence, and how it can improve the lives of people living with paralysis.

It’s been nearly 20 years since my life changed—that’s two decades of learning to navigate life in a wheelchair. There are many obstacles for people living with paralysis, so I have to find creative ways to get things done. While I’m more independent than most, there have been times when I couldn’t join my friends for a drink because the bar had steep steps. Or I’ve been on a date where there wasn’t space between tables so everyone had to get up and cause a commotion. 

But some of the greatest challenges and hurdles I face are at home. When you’re paralyzed, your home goes from being a place of comfort and security to a reminder of what you’ve lost. Light switches and thermostats are usually too high up on the wall and, if my phone falls on the floor, I may not be able to call a friend or family member if I need help. These may seem like simple annoyances but, to members of the paralysis community, they reinforce the lack of control and limitations we often face.

This changed when the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and Google Nest started a project to understand how technology can benefit people living with paralysis. Google Nest is providing up to 100,000 Google Home Minis to help them. I’ve been using mine for a few months, and it’s helped me control my environment, gain more independence, and have a little fun—all with my voice. 

If you’re not familiar with Mini, it’s a small and mighty smart speaker that gives you help when you need it. The first thing I did was connect Mini to my Nest Thermostat (the one that’s a tad too high). “Hey Google, turn down the thermostat” is especially useful these days in the summer heat. I’m training for the 2020 Paralympic Games as a powerlifter for Team USA, so I use my Mini to set alarms, manage my training schedule, and even make grocery lists. Music is a huge motivator for me, and with Mini, I listen to Spotify playlists and get pumped up before a workout. 

I can have fun with my Mini, too. I’ve tried my hand at trivia by saying, “Hey Google, let’s play lucky trivia.” I’ve dropped a beat with “Hey Google, beatbox,” and I enjoy listening to my Google Play audiobooks. And, on a serious note, I know that if I need help but cannot reach my phone, I can use my Mini to call my mom or cousin using only my voice. 

29 years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act passed landmark legislation making public spaces more accessible for everyone. Unfortunately, the world isn’t flat and there are still many obstacles for people living with paralysis. I’m hopeful that Google Nest can help more people make their homes that much easier to navigate, just as it has for me. 

Individuals living with paralysis and their caregivers can sign up to get a little help around the home with a Google Home Mini—here’s how you can find out if you’re eligible. If you’d like to help through a donation, you can ask your Assistant, “Hey Google, donate to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.” Through your voice, you can offer a little bit of help that will go a long way.