From left, Kristi Herriott, Gary Fisher, Ted Brown and Julia Irwin smile for a selfie using the Sesame Enable app on Fisher’s device. Samantha Pak, Kirkland Reporter

From left, Kristi Herriott, Gary Fisher, Ted Brown and Julia Irwin smile for a selfie using the Sesame Enable app on Fisher’s device. Samantha Pak, Kirkland Reporter

Open Sesame: Mobile app offers patients more independence and privacy

As someone with multiple sclerosis, Gary Fisher and his wife Eileen Fisher are in regular contact with his doctor.

But when Ted Brown, director of neurorehabilitation at the MS Center at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, called a few months ago, he received a surprise.

“(Gary) answered the phone,” Brown said.

This was surprising because Gary is paralyzed from the neck down and answering the phone can be a challenge — at least it was until a little more than a year and a half ago.

That was when Gary and Eileen — who live around Auburn and Puyallup near Lake Tapps — discovered Sesame Enable, an app that allows the user to operate a mobile device using only head movements.

Using the front-facing camera of any Android device, the app tracks head movements to unlock touch-free texting, web browsing, social media posting and other activities that most of people use their phones and devices for every day.

“The app is just head movements,” Gary said. “Sounds complicated, but it’s not.”

Gary, a former truck driver, was diagnosed with MS in 2001 and prior to discovering Sesame, as his condition progressed, a lot of his days were spent at home watching TV. But his mobility was limited to the point that he “couldn’t even change the channel.” This led him to be more withdrawn and depressed.

Eileen, who works full time, said the app gives Gary a level of independence and has opened doors for him. He is now able to communicate with his children and grandchild as well as people he had lost touch with before he got Sesame. She said she no longer needs to be involved in his communications with others anymore.

Gary said being able to connect with people and going on Facebook is his favorite thing about Sesame.

“I like gossip,” he said.

Brown said he is always looking for options for his patients to be more independent and while there are hardware systems available that allow adaptive control, they can be expensive. The systems can also be much more involved in setting up.

“I was a little skeptical about (Sesame),” Brown said about his initial thoughts on the app when the Fishers told him about it.

But once he saw how it worked, he said it seemed pretty simple to set up and operate.

“The simpler you can make it, the better,” Brown said.

Brown said Sesame is also something he would recommend to other patients, adding that it could help people who have spinal injuries and other conditions that limit their mobility.

“Sesame Enable has developed a life-changing product for people suffering from spinal cord injuries, ALS, MS and cerebral palsy, as well as amputees and others with limited to no use of their hands,” said company co-founder Oded Ben-Dov.

Sesame started in Israel and according to its website, was started after Ben-Dov was demonstrating a game on TV that was controlled by head movements. Giora Livne, the company’s other co-founder, contacted him the next day. Livne, a former Navy commander and quadriplegic, asked if Ben-Dov could make a him smartphone that he could use. The two men teamed up and while Livne just wanted to be able to order flowers for his wife, the website states that it was “apparent that many others also want the independence and privacy of using a smartphone by themselves.”

“More than 35 million people around the world suffer from a physical condition that prevents them from using mobile devices, further restricting their independence and making them that much more dependent on others,” Ben-Dov said. “Our touch-free control for smartphones and tablets provides people with limited upper mobility increased independence and privacy, which can be life changing.”

Ben-Dov said they have recently launched Sesame in the United States and are looking to bring the technology to anyone who could benefit from it.

“The solution is already subsidized in 10 states (not including Washington yet) and through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said.

Gary is a beta tester for the app and said it is exciting to see new updates, such as the recently added selfie feature. He said he is more in control of things, describing Sesame as a game changer.

“It’s been a godsend,” Gary said. “Anything you can do on the Internet, I can do too.”

Eileen Fisher (left) and her husband Gary Fisher describe the Sesame Enable app as a game changer. Samantha Pak, Kirkland Reporter

Eileen Fisher (left) and her husband Gary Fisher describe the Sesame Enable app as a game changer. Samantha Pak, Kirkland Reporter

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