How the Blind and Paralyzed Will Change the World

The old adage “anything is possible” might sound cliché, but for the dedicated volunteers behind Not Impossible Labs, a non-profit organization that develops creative solutions to real-world problems, it’s a mission statement they’re living up to.

One of the founders of Not Impossible LabsMick Ebeling, took to the NXNE Interactive stage last week to share the story behind the organization and where it is heading with the hopes of inspiring and mobilizing social change.

Just under a month ago at the Bay Area Maker Faire, Ebeling launched a new website for Not Impossible Labs which aims to connect makers with causes. From 3D printing to pocket sized computers, the maker movement is empowering individuals to create low-cost solutions for the differently abled. Online communities, like the one Ebeling has created, are bringing the right people together to make change. It’s the perfect storm.

The project which inspired the creation of the organization was the Eyewriter; an open-source, low-cost device which was created so the paralyzed, iconic LA-based graffiti artist Tempt One could draw by only using his eyes.

In 2007 Ebeling found himself at an art show fundraiser for Tempt One who was fully paralyzed as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Ebeling went home that night with some art, but there was something about Tempt One’s story that he couldn’t fully shake. When the holidays came, Ebeling wanted to donate money in lieu of corporate gifts and he thought of Tempt One. So he called up the artist’s dad to ask what they were raising money for and found out that Tempt’s family simply wanted to communicate with him again.

In order for Tempt One to ‘say something’ at that time, someone would have to hold up a piece of paper with the alphabet and point letter by letter until he blinked to indicate his letter of choice. Each letter would then be scribbled down on paper, eventually crafting a thought. It’s not hard to imagine how things could easily go wrong and the painfully slow process that would have to be repeated frequently.

“I am a father. I have sons. I have a brother. I could not imagine what it would be like to not be able to communicate with them. That struck me as wrong,” said Ebeling.

Ebeling made a promise to not only find a way for Tempt One to communicate more effectively, but to also find a way for him to draw once again.

“If you’re sitting drinking a cup of tea and you see an old woman crossing the street drop all her groceries, you’re not just going to sit there and keep sipping your tea. You’re going to get up and help,” said Ebeling.

Ebeling invited a team of artists, hackers and developers, all of which were to some degree social activists, into his home to develop and build the solution. The Eyewriter fulfilled Mick’s original promise and he went on to raise public awareness about the device and how it could enable others. He produced an award-winning feature film “Getting Up: The Tempt One Story,” documenting the creation of the Eyewriter, he spoke at TED and he garnered a whole lot of media attention.

With the launch of the new Not Impossible Labs website, Ebeling is keeping the momentum going. There are three projects on the site which are recruiting talent—a brain writer for Tempt who has since lost his ability to blink and control the Eyewriter, a mouth-controlled mouse for a quadriplegic student, and a laser cane for a blind magician.

If you’d like to get involved, register and then support or submit a cause.