Technology: Winning The Uphill Battle

Todd Stabelfeldt

Welcome to Todd Against the Machine. I’m the author and namesake Todd Stabelfeldt and like all of you, I’m in a fight.

We all have a machine that whirrs around us and a life that sometimes grinds us down. It might be a flat tire on Tuesday, a fall that lands you in urgent care on Wednesday, a job, or the bills … we all face the fight. Since I became a C4 quadriplegic in 1987, I’ve fought for my independence and to present myself as Todd: the human and not just Todd: the quadriplegic.

Some of the road has been harsh. The core of my existence as a child was being reminded that I had to do what I was told and that the chair didn’t make me special. I was going to go out and get a job and put food on the table like everyone else. Quadriplegia didn’t exempt me. I was told that I would leave the house by age 20, and that I should be grateful for the two-year grace period. In fact, I left home at 16.

It’s been tough, but I’ve been lucky. I am the founder and CEO of C4 Consulting, I’m married to a retired U.S. naval commander, and I have a home my friends have dubbed the “quadthedral.” I have a pretty dope life, and I’m doing some pretty dope things.

The decades in a chair have taught me that we can prevail against the machine because we own our reactions to its always-changing ways. We have a choice in how we respond. I’ve learned that with grace, prayer, some help and a little luck, we can make the choice to say, “Screw it. I’m going to make it.”

In this column, I will focus on what I know best: technology, and how it can help us beat the machine. Technological advancement has enabled many new and improved solutions for independence that have provided restoration, dignity and respect.

There are a lot of ways to explore and discuss technologies for wheelchair users. For me, those that simplify basic tasks have been the best, including those that help me do the following:

1. Get in and out of my own home

2. Use the phone in both the wheelchair and bed

3. Use the computer in both the wheelchair and bed

Photo by Barbara Dekeyser

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Today there are a lot of viable, affordable door automation solutions that allow you to get in and out of the house independently, but that wasn’t always the case. Years ago, one solution cost me over $5,000 — for one door! This solution had automation technology in the door itself, and then required more technology as part of the home automation system. Now I use the Apple ecosystem for home automation, and the Apple Home Kit app integrates the door opening function. So, in my case, I no longer need a specific button hardwired to my chair.

Likewise I used to have to yell through the house for the nurse. Now I just push a button on my phone app (or tell Siri to do it), which silently signals the nurse’s station. It’s easier, more dignified, and I can do it when I’m sitting in my chair or lying in bed.

In bed, my iPhone is connected wirelessly to the Mac, which lets me make calls or answer the phone. Back in the ’90s, I had to use a different headset at night that only worked with a customized phone, connecting through modems and employing voice software packages. A nightmare. Today, the continuity and portability in the Apple ecosystem lets me maintain my independence everywhere.

The third critical need is access to computing power whether in the wheelchair or in bed. For this, I blend the home-based Apple system with my Windows-based work environment. In my bedroom there’s an arm mounted to the wall holding a monitor, along with a mouse that I run with my mouth. With these tools, I have access to and control of both my home and work computing/connectivity environments when lying down, just as I do when sitting in my chair, which means freedom to connect anytime and anywhere for anything.

The nondisabled may appreciate these independence technologies, but to them, they’re conveniences. To me, they’re the difference between functionality and dysfunction, between dependence and independence, between the machine winning and having the choice to take some control.

I know that sharing information can help transform lives. I did a lot of research and explored a lot of technologies to assemble solutions that worked for me, and they’ve made a huge difference. Through this column, I hope I can help you identify solutions to maximize your independence, improve your lives and stare down that machine.