Two simple words are changing lives: Open Sesame.
Speaking these two words opens up a world of opportunities to those who have lost use of their hands.
Open Sesame is the first hands-free app designed for people with disabilities. The app allows people to communicate with their smartphone, and not just for phone calls — but actual interfacing with games and other apps as well.
Gary Fisher knows all about it.
The Seattle resident has been living with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) for the past 17 years.
As the disease progressed, so did his ability to use his body. When the last of his body below his head failed him, his life became, in his own words, “pathetic.”
He was living what he and his wife, Eileen, described as a “lonely and isolated experience.”
The Open Sesame app is changing that.
How the app helps
The Fishers explained that it took a little time to adjust and get his neck used to the movements, but then the app was easy to use.
Fisher uses a combination of voice commands and head gestures. He’s also able to connect the app to the virtual assistant Alexa so he can launch commands around his house, where once he just sat in a chair staring at the television.
Today, Fisher is able to use a smartphone all day, as well as his tablet.
Open Sesame changed his life. He can now make calls, text his kids, and look things up on the internet.
It also changed his wife’s life. She no longer has to worry about him as much if she’s away or running errands. He’s a text or phone call away.
“It’s made a huge difference,” explained Eileen. “Gary was very independent before MS took over. He is only 56 years old, and everything below the head is gone. Only thing he was capable of was to watch TV all day. Satellite would freeze up and he just stared. Last hand gone, last straw. He was frustrated and depressed.”
The road to assistance began when the Fishers visited Las Vegas and their flight was delayed. A stranger came up and suggested a paralysis support group.
Fisher didn’t go at first. But when he finally went, he found it inspiring to be in a group of similar people.
At one seminar, Fisher watched a video on new tech gadgets. He saw the Open Sesame app and immediately ordered the phone and got started.
Fisher now has something to do every day. His tablet is bigger and better. He can contact and follow friends on Facebook. He can engage.
The app has opened his world back up from an isolated, lonely experience to a life of participation.
Lending a hand to those who need it
Not all people with MS experience paralysis or loss of hand use.
But both symptoms can occur, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Tremors, which can also be a common symptom of MS, can further exacerbate the situation.
Open Sesame is a product of Sesame Enable, a privately held company.
Based in Israel, the company uses gaming technology for people without hand use to instead manage smartphones with head gestures.
“This is a business that started from a need, not from an idea,” Keren Or Rosner, marketing manager at Sesame Enable, told Healthline.
It’s a company that started because one person with spinal cord injuries asked if it could be done. Today, the company helps all different users, including those with MS.
The company has worked with several U.S. states to provide subsidies for people who are unable to afford the device and service.
Currently, subsidies differ between each state, but in general, the state covers some to all of the cost of a device bundled with the technology. Among these states are Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
Or Rosner said the first month is free. Then there’s a subscription of $19.95 per month.
Or Rosner said it’s important for people with progressive illnesses to have simple month-to-month plans, so the person can make changes if needed.
How it works
The user needs to be able to speak the words “Open Sesame,” and then the phone opens.
Instead of using a touch screen, head movements are used to manage the smartphone.
The software is designed to work in three ways.
The first is a custom mode designed to follow every move.
Then there’s a moderate-adaptive mode that can ignore or isolate movements if needed. This is helpful for people with tremors or spasms.
A third mode works by isolating parts of the face. This mode requires the person to have assistance.
All three modes require the phone or tablet be placed in a holder to keep it still.
While it’s called an app, Open Sesame is designed as an interface to manage other apps.
This device is only available for Android 7.0 and higher devices.
The software is designed to work with the Google algorithm. It also requires access to the user’s “selfie” camera so it can track their head.
The device is designed to work with people who have spinal cord injuries, MS, Lou Gehrig disease, neuromuscular diseases like SMA, CMD, Duchenne’s, and more, cerebral palsy (depending on control of head), amputations, previous stroke, and any condition leading to loss of mobility in the hands, fingers, or both.
“It means independence for our patients. And independence is everything,” Or Rosner explained to Healthline.
Editor's note: Caroline Craven is a patiebnt living with MS. Her award-winning blog is GirlwithMs.com. She can be found at @thegirlwithms.