People with MS Share Technology “Game Plan”
By Rachel Dykoski
Teams lined up at the starting line for the annual Walk MS: Christopher & Banks Twin Cities Walk in the historic Minneahaha Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Walkers of any level could be seen – some on wheels, others with canes, but all with smiles on what turned out to be a perfect day for a walk.
Mark Dixon was an exceptional walker. I mean, glider. No, that's not right - what do you call a 50-something year old who improves his motor limitations via Segway? I just had to stop him and hear how he lived with MS and used technology to do so. I stood my ground, firmly in his path, and shouted over the live music, "Talk to me about your Segway! Do you use it because you have MS?”
Diagnosed in 2001, Mark changed his life to suit his needs. He stopped working, but didn't stop living. So I asked him, "Is it hard to stay on the Segway?" He said “no” like my kids say "duh." "I go to (the Segway) Web site often. There are many people with MS using these things to get around. I get exhausted walking, but when I use this, I can go to a mall and not worry about how far away I've parked my car," Dixon shares.
Mark’s all-terrain Segway is parked by the bench as we discuss the various tools he uses to keep active. "I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking most of the time. Since 2001, I really can't write anything by hand. The voice recognition software suits me. It picks up accents, it's fast and types many words," Dixon said.
With a daughter studying in Australia, Dixon uses a PDA to upload appointments from his computer’s calendar. "I forget that if I want to talk to her, say on her birthday, I have to plan it for the day before her birthday. I use the voice recording option on my PDA to create a verbal reminder and sync the calendar entry with my PC so that the appointment is in both places."
Blake Middleton, fundraiser, blogger and boating instructor, is another person living with MS who is full of vigor. Middleton was diagnosed in 2003 and has since scaled back his extremely active lifestyle. "Technology makes my life so much easier," Middleton said. The former ski instructor now focuses on teaching people how to sail.
Middleton uses his smartphone to work smarter, not harder. "One day, I saw a few clouds in the far distance. I opened my phone and was able to pull up a Doppler radar image. I saw a screen full of fast moving storm clouds and immediately instructed the staff to get the boats and kids into shelter. We had over 65 boats in the water, but only lost one. If I hadn't had that tool, we would have lost a lot more.”
Middleton also credits technology with helping him to forge meaningful connections with people online. "I blog about three to four times a week. It’s where I can share my personal story and explain to others why supporting the National MS Society is so important,” said Middleton. “I must be doing something right, because I receive stunning notes from people who love my work. But I'm always surprised by them."
The crisp dawn blossomed into an inviting, toasty afternoon, and I found myself inspired by two seemingly different gents who seek the same ends: one, an admitted techno-salesman who has found a new lease on life through technology and the other, a sports enthusiast who has shortened only the duration of his exercises, not the quality and quantity. Both of them LIVE with MS, and with the help of technology, both of them work smarter, not harder, in pursuit of healthful happiness.
Rachel Dykoski is one of nine people with MS who serve as members of the MS Technology Collaborative steering committee and advise the work of the Collaborative. Rachel is a virtual collegian with the University of Illinois Chicago studying non-profit management, works part-time as a freelance writer, and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two children.