Tecla: Fostering Independence Through Access to Technology
Editor’s Note: While studying biomedical engineering in his home country of Mexico, Mauricio Meza headed north for an internship at a spinal cord injury rehabilitation center in Toronto, Canada. There, he worked in the assistive technology division helping wheelchair users access technology. With a desire to further explore the possibilities of using technology to facilitate independent living for people with mobility limitations, he returned to Toronto to work for the same center upon finishing his degree. At a time when smartphones were just starting to gain popularity, Meza and his colleague Jorge Silva came up with the idea for Tecla and launched Komodo OpenLab Inc. Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey met up with Meza at Abilities Expo New York Metro to get the specs on Tecla and a demonstration on how the device works.
What is Tecla?
Tecla is an assistive device that helps people with mobility impairments use iOS or Android devices, computers, or smart home systems. Our newest version, tecla-e, can connect to up to eight devices and integrate with smart home systems. The device is compatible with various assistive switches and devices. You can control it by blinking, blowing, or with very small head movements. It can also be integrated into a wheelchair’s Environmental Control Unit (ECU), Input/Output Module (IOM), or Adaptive Switches Laboratories’ ATOM Electronic Head Array. They all connect directly to the Tecla, and then the Tecla can connect to the various devices so the user can switch from one to another independently.
You can assign switches to appliances, so from your wheelchair controls, you can turn on your wifi-enabled light or turn down your air conditioning, for example.
We also have an app that allows you to add more devices. We recommend assigning the basic or more commonly used functions to your switches and accessing the lesser used functions through the app.
The app is a really simple remote control for appliances, speed dials, templates for emails or text messaging, and some device functions such as shortcuts to other apps. We integrate with the accessibility features of your phone, tablet, or computer. Once you’ve enabled your switch access function, you’ll see a frame on the screen that highlights the different items. You can set it up in various ways, so for someone who can only use one switch, for example, by blinking, the frame moves from item to item at a certain pace, and when you see the item that you want, you blink. If you have two switches, perhaps someone who can sip and puff with a switch, then you can use one to move and one to select. If you can use three buttons with a head array (left, right, and back), then you can have preview, select, and cancel. You can customize all of that depending on each user’s preferences.
Learning to Use Tecla and Getting Set Up
It’s pretty straightforward. I think how quickly someone is able to efficiently use Tecla comes down to how familiar they initially are with technology. At Abilities Expo, we had a girl come to our booth who was really good with computers, but she’d never used a tablet or a phone before. We set her up with Tecla, and because she had prior knowledge of how computers work, she started using it with very little explanation from us. For someone who may not be as familiar, it will take a little more time.
Integrating a phone and tablet is pretty simple. Most of our users have a family member that can help them do it. If your smart home systems are previously set up and working properly, integrating them with tecla-e is pretty easy. If you have Alexa, she scans for things you already have on your network and adds them automatically. So, if you want to add those devices to our app, you can just log in with your Amazon credentials.
The tecla-e battery life lasts for about two days of continuous use. You can charge it via USB-C. Because it’s portable, people use it from their wheelchair and in bed, so a lot of people have it charging from their chair USB port all day and then they don’t need to have it plugged in at night when they remove it and put it on their bedside table.
The Importance of Inclusive Technology
Having access to mobile technology is really important, especially with all of the tools available today.
We have a group of mobile device users who have created their own Facebook community where they share tips about how they use technology. The users are from all over the world. Having access to these tools brings everyone together.
Editor’s Note: The tecla-e can be purchased on Tecla’s website for $499 plus tax and shipping. If you’re not ready to commit to purchasing a Tecla without trying it first, check the map at gettecla.com/pages/try-tecla for a resource center or reseller in your area that can show you how it works on-site. Tecla’s website also includes various user stories and videos to give people a better idea of how the device can enable access to technology.
Follow Tecla on social media:
This article was extracted from an interview with Mauricio Meza, co-founder and CEO of Komodo OpenLab Inc. It has been edited for clarity and length.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!