How one small business empowers people with disabilities

By: Libby Jacobson Fox
Sesame Enable unlocks the power of smartphones

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a disability. To celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, we’ll be sharing stories, videos, social and multimedia to recognize the important role disabilities play in the workforce. #InclusionWorks

Most of us take smartphones for granted, but using a touchscreen phone can be nearly impossible for those with physical disabilities. There are 5.6 million individuals living with some form of paralysis in the United States. Many of them have limited use of their hands due to their paralysis. As a result, many are effectively cut off from the applications and educational opportunities that are increasingly available via mobile devices.

Sesame Enable founder Oded Ben Dov had an idea: the Sesame Phone, a handset pre-loaded with hands-free software that could track a user’s head movements and replicate the touch actions a user would normally make with a finger. Sesame Phone has the potential to bring those living with paralysis or debilitating illnesses, such as Parkinson’s or arthritis, greater independence and access to online innovations that will improve their lives. When Verizon heard about Sesame Enable’s work in 2014, we encouraged them to apply for Verizon’s Powerful Answers Award competition. The competition is a multi-million dollar challenge for creators and entrepreneurs to leverage mobile technology to develop new solutions to solve some of society’s most pressing issues. The rest, as the headline indicates, is history. Today, Sesame’s developers continue to work with Verizon, both in our San Francisco Innovation Center and as part of a 12-week accelerator program to get the Sesame Phone to market using its motto: “Touch is Overrated.”

We believe technology can and should improve life for everyone. That’s why over two decades ago Verizon developed our Universal Design Principles to ensure our products and services are accessible to all people, including those with disabilities. These principles are a set of guidelines that our business follows to try to incorporate accessibility into our services from the outset, rather than treating it as an afterthought. Over the years, we have introduced numerous accessible products and services including a text-only wireless plan for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers, large-button FiOS remote controls, and, most recently, through our partnership with a firm called Velasense, a suite of applications designed to assist blind and visually-impaired consumers with everyday life tasks.

We know we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. That’s why we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others to turn their ideas into a reality. In the case of Sesame Enable, we’re excited to witness the development of a product that’s sure to be a win-win for both Sesame and the millions of Americans who are now able to live more independent and empowered lives due to this new service.