SXSW 2015: Enhancing human functionality with technology

The idea submission period for the panel picker for is officially closed and I'm excited to tell you about my submission for SXSW 2015. I will be building on the 2013 and 2014 conversations and have asked two wonderful panelist to join me for a discussion; Holly Stiles of Disability Rights NC and Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible. 

Enhancing human functionality with technology

As kids we long to be superheroes. We yearn for jetpacks, space travel and teleportation.

Hopes get dashed when we discover Batman's life costs $682 million.

Commoditized space travel thrills us, but then we realize we'll never go. We fund Kickstarter space travel projects and dream practically. We hope for chargerless electronics and productive commutes to work.

Our parents get sick, our peers get debilitating diseases and we take on caregiving responsibilities we didn’t foresee.

We ponder the practicality of jetpacks, realize they may never happen and realize we may be disabled at some point.

We forget about our wishes and look for things to simplify life; ways to interpret needs of someone who can't speak or how to pay for sh*t you need if you fall ill.

It doesn't have to be dismal and we don't have to settle. We can design smarter solutions to make life better for everyone.

Join us for a conversation with advocates who are actively looking at solutions to better humanity.

How are you advocates? Holly is a disability rights lawyer. She has dedicated her life to helping people with disabilities. Mick is a maker. He works with his team to build solutions that are immediately deployable. Virginia is solving Alzheimer’s related problems and crusading to give a voice to people who are not equipped to speak for themselves.

What do you have against jetpacks? Nothing. We’d love to tool around town with one. However, we often think jetpacks don’t really solve some of our biggest problems and that’s what we’d like to do.

Do you *really* think everyone is going to be disabled? Being disabled means you have a physical or mental condition that limits you. Maybe your movements, maybe your senses or maybe you can’t do all the activity you once could do. All disabilities aren’t catastrophic or permanent, but at some point EVERYONE will have something they can’t do. We hope to shine the light on elegant solutions that work for everyone and look for ways to cost-effectively make lives better.

Do you have any examples of things that were created for someone with disabilities that benefits me? Dragon Dictate was developed for individuals who could not use a keyboard or mouse. It quickly caught on with CEOs who wanted to dictate directly to their computer instead of their assistants. Today, we interact with our friend Siri while driving cars and looking for information.

Why should I care? You probably don’t. But one day you may need to care. When you do, you’ll realize most of us don’t have access to the kind of equipment or services we need to be independent and live at home. If we design for people with disabilities we may be able to find solutions that benefit us all.

Why am I interested in this?

I am the primary caregiver for a family member who has Alzheimer's. Providing care for her, on the heals of my father's death, made me realize we all will become disabled at some point. That disability may be temporary (a broken foot, recovering after having a baby) or it may be permanent (I don't need to be illustrative here). Our world is not set up for this. I want to help solve some of these problems and, in the meantime, I want to advocate for people like Holly Stiles and Elliot Kotek who are doing amazing things to help us solve these huge problems. 

About Holly

Holly Stiles is an attorney who has dedicated the last five years of her practice to advancing the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. She received her Juris Doctorate in a 2007 from New York Law School, and a B.A. in Ancient History from UNC Chapel Hill in 2003. As a person with hearing loss, Holly is keenly interested in how we use technology to include people with disabilities in the world.     

Holly is a lawyer who is looking at the practical realities of living life with disabilities. She believes having a disability doesn’t mean a life lived in the shadows.

About Mick

Recently honored as one of the Top 50 Most Creative People of 2014 and the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian of the Year Award, Mick Ebeling is a film/television/commercial producer, philanthropist, technology trailblazer, author, entrepreneur and public speaker. Ebeling is CEO of Not Impossible Labs, an organization that develops creative solutions to address real-world problems.

Not Impossible Labs was founded on Mick’s firm belief that nothing is impossible. With no technical background in ocular recognition technology, Ebeling created Not Impossible’s first project: The Eyewriter. An open source, low-cost, DIY device, The Eyewriter enables individuals with paralysis to communicate and create art using only the movement of their eyes. Time Magazine named The Eyewriter one of the "Top 50 Inventions of 2010."

The subject of Intel's "Look Inside" campaign, Ebeling's "Project Daniel" flew to Sudan to 3-D-print prosthetic limbs and fit them for children of the war-torn region. He then left the equipment behind with trained locals to continue his work, thus creating the world's first 3-D printing prosthetic lab and training facility. Arms are printed within hours and cost $100. Time Magazine said, "It's hard to imagine any other device doing more to make the world a better place."

On January 6, Ebeling’s first book, Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn’t Be Done, hit shelves. For more info, visit


All SXSW talks are approved by the community (i.e., you!), the SXSW Advisory Board and SXSW Staff. The community is the first to vote with the voting period opening on August 11. When the time comes, I would love your vote of support.