After years of having a flip phone, Phil Kirk is adjusting to his new iPhone.
He’s never been able to email or text before, and it’s certainly nice to be able to listen to his favorite church music.
But the benefits of his new device go far beyond convenience. In just a few short months, the phone’s incredibly sensitive camera and accessibility apps have brought him increased safety and more independence.
“This phone is just like another set of eyes,” Phil said
Now 52, Phil was born with a rare genetic syndrome — Laurence-Moon-Bardet-Biedl syndrome. The condition affects several organ systems and most people with the diagnosis gradually lose their eyesight.
“The doctors told my folks I wouldn’t live very long,” Phil said. “But I’ve done everything. I’ve lived a rock star life!”
Some of his proudest accomplishments include graduating from high school, running a successful sound company for 20 years and buying his own home in Heath in 2003, where he lives with his dog Kara.
For many years his eyesight remained stable. But in the mid-1990s, he began developing macular degeneration and had to give up driving. He had to step away from his job and file for disability.
He began receiving support from LICCO and worked in a variety of settings over the years, including Denison University and Licking/Knox Goodwill Industries.
Although his eyesight has stabilized once again, Phil lives with very low vision. He has some peripheral vision but can’t see when he’s looking straight ahead.
“My mom and dad used to tell me you could send me to a deserted island and I’d survive,” he said. “I just learn to adapt.”
Over the past few years, he’s been searching for a steady job while attending LICCO, helping out at church and playing the drums.
“God threw a miracle into my life a time or two,” he said. “I’ve got a good family and good people at LICCO.”
He also lists his nurses and Ali Rahimi — his “tech guy” and the founder of Ohio at Home Healthcare — as blessings in his life.
Phil met Ali after he and Amanda Brehm — his Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities service coordinator — began to look at assistive tech options.
After looking at various Ohio tech providers, they sat down with Ali to talk about Phil’s needs.
“I said, ‘It would be nice to have something to navigate around the house and when I’m out and about,’” he said.
Ali had a lot of suggestions, including sensors in Phil’s home and some smart devices. But the key to all that was getting him a smartphone.
After several months, Phil and Amanda got word that his waiver would pay for an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The high end phone was needed because of its sophisticated camera system, which has a LIDAR detector that measures depth.
Using his new phone, Phil can determine where barriers are in a room so he doesn’t run into the furniture or walls.
The phone also allows him to use the app Be My Eyes, to assist him with reading his thermostat labels and medications. He’s hoping he can use the app to navigate, if he ever needs help when he goes for walks.
Using bone conduction headphones built in to a pair of sunglasses, Phil can use his phone for assistance, while still having his ears open to hear the noise around him.
Ali set up the phone with lots of accessibility apps and shortcuts that are customized to Phil. But he also set it up so it could be run in “safe mode” in case someone has to assist Phil with the device.
Ohio at Home continues to serve as Phil’s assistive tech provider, Amanda said.
“We didn’t just give him the technology and tell him to figure it out,” she said. “We have ongoing support.”
Phil has blown everyone away by how quickly he’s mastered the phone.
“He’s teaching me things and I’ve had an iPad for a decade,” Amanda said.
As Phil prepares for another job search, Amanda said she’s excited to see how Phil’s newfound independence impresses future prospective employers.
She’s also hopeful that the phone will help Phil continue to pursue his wellness goals and make it easier for him to stay in contact with the people who support him.
Taking a leap into the world of assistive tech — and leaving his flip phone behind — was worth it and Phil said he is excited for the next steps.
He said he’d encourage others to be open minded, especially about technology they’ve never used before.
“I’d say try, try, try to succeed,” he said. “You never know until you try what you can do or what’s out there. Don’t be afraid!”
To start a conversation about assistive technology, please contact your service coordinator.