TechMatters: Google Nest and Reeve Foundation give free Home Minis to people living with paralysis


TechMatters is a semi-regular column exploring the intersection between tech and our lives, why it matters, and how it’s helping to improve our quality and vitality of life. 

Here, we will profile new startups and products that have a vested interest in the betterment of life on a physical, emotional, and humanitarian level.

Google Nest and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation are teaming up to give away 100,000 Home Mini units to people living with paralysis. Google announced the initiative to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which President George H.W. Bush signed into law on July 26, 1990.

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Interested applicants must live in the United States and will need to fill out a form on Google’s giveaway site to receive a free device.

Paralysis Statistics

The Home Mini partnership is helping a more significant portion of the population than some people might realize.

The Reeve Foundation posted data from a research study on its website. Results show that about one in 50 people is living with paralysis in the U.S. This figure represents about 5.4 million people, which is close to the collective populations of Los Angeles, D.C., and Philadelphia.

Researchers then divided the causes of paralysis into five categories. Stroke is the leading cause, followed by spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, other causes, and cerebral palsy.

Notably, spinal cord injuries account for 1.4 million cases of paralysis out of the 5.4 million total cases that researchers identified. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries with over 390,000 reported incidents.

Whatever the cause, people who are living with paralysis deal with mobility challenges every day. As such, technological advances can play an essential role in helping these individuals gain independence and improve their quality of life.

Hands-Free Help

The Google Home Mini offers hands-free help around the house in a variety of situations. Countless users have given testimonials regarding the device’s positive impact on their lives.

For example, U.S. Paralympic Powerlifter Garrison Redd is aiming to win a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In a blog post, the Reeve Foundation ambassador reveals that he manages his training schedule and plays motivational music during his workout with his Mini.

Additionally, the charismatic weightlifter shares some of the ways that the virtual assistant helps him at home in a promo video.

Redd says, “I’m very independent. I’m able to do just about anything that any able-bodied individual could do. Voice-enabled technology helps me activate my lights, my eating system, my TV.”

“The wheelchair isn’t a restriction,” Redd adds. “It’s society that creates restrictions for wheelchair users. Me being a paraplegic, it teaches you, you can’t judge a person by how they appear; because you don’t know how incredible they may be.”

Another Mini user, Cole Sydnor, developed quadriplegia at just 15 after jumping into a river and hitting his head on a rock. In his promo clip, he talks about regaining lost time with technology.

“Being a quadriplegic, all day long, there are things that take a little bit longer. But I’m trying to become more and more independent,” Sydnor says. “That’s a big reason why these technologies are amazing. It gives us back some of that time that we lose.”

He continues, “With my girlfriend on my YouTube channel, I want to take away the stigma surrounding disabilities. Probably my favorite comment someone said, ‘I don’t even see the chair anymore. I just see Cole.’”

The couple’s motivational channel is called Roll with Cole & Charisma. Currently, it boasts over 176,000 subscribers.

More Game-Changing Technology

The Google Mini giveaway is an example of just one way Google strives to use technology to benefit humankind. Last year, the company launched the Google AI Impact Challenge under its AI For Social Good initiative. The program seeks to tackle all sorts of global challenges by harnessing the power of AI.

Google awarded grants totaling $25 million to projects aimed at using artificial intelligence for social and environmental good. Overall, 20 organizations from across the globe received financial support.

Among them is Hand Talk, which offers digital translation for Brazilian sign language. This tool “enables digital communication for deaf and hard of hearing Brazilians, and also increases Brazilian Sign Language learning.”

Meanwhile, nonprofit organizations like the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation are funding research that works towards discovering major medical breakthroughs. Among its many endeavors, the Reeve Foundation created The International Research Consortium on Spinal Cord Injury. The consortium reportedly is, “a collection of laboratories working towards the identification of potential spinal repair treatments.”

Overall, when technology meets research, as in Google Nest’s partnership with the Reeve Foundation, there’s no limit to the number of people who will receive the life-changing help they need.