Adaptive tech connects paralyzed woman to the world

With the flick of her tongue, Carol Spoden can connect with the world.

The Richmond resident is paralyzed from the neck down, a condition that developed from multiple sclerosis.

She can move only her head, her tongue, her eyelids.

But using those assets, she can call her husband Virgil, summon her daughter and caregiver Jill, open the home’s door, dim the lights and select that favorite Western available for streaming on Netflix.


Her pal Richard Dreyfuss. Actually, his name is Tom Ardolf, president of Cybermation in Waite Park. (Carol thinks he bears a striking resemblance to the actor.)

His company designed and installed a system that lets Carol control her surroundings through a tablet, controlled with a mouse designed to be moved by her tongue. The mouse is also 3D-printed.

Any drawbacks?

“No, (my mouth) just gets dry,” Carol said.

They came up with a solution for that too. Next to the mouse is the end of a hands-free hydration system.

The equipment was made in collaboration with United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota, an organization that hopes to increase accessibility for all people with disabilities, said Jenna Berger, president and CEO.

Assistive technology is any item that can increase access or functionality for people with disabilities. It can be as simple as a propping up a tablet on a lap pillow to highly specialized equipment and computer systems.

Currently, an estimated 15.6 million people in the U.S. either use some type of specialized assistive technology or have reported they would benefit if they did use assistive technology, according to the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs.

Cybermation first started in 2009 working with digital health care technologies, including assistive technologies and, since 2012, it has become 100 percent of its business.

The setup at the Spoden home helps Carol’s caregivers. They don’t have to run to the bed every time Carol wants a drink of water. Of course, that benefits Carol’s health too. She stays better hydrated.

The system is relatively easy to set up. It’s the same system Ardolf has in his home, and anyone could have it installed to automate anything using electricity: locks, lights, entertainment systems and more.

The only difference for Carol is the user interface. In cases like this, Ardolf will assess what a person’s strength is. If they can use only a finger, Cybermation will design a device to take advantage of that. In Carol’s case, she could move her neck and her tongue.

To read the rest of this article, published in the St. Cloud Times, please click here.