SYMMES TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Sycamore High School freshman Jacob Smilg traveled to Vienna, Austria, in October to give a TEDx talk, but his heart stayed close to home.
A 2013 lightning strike left Smilg’s friend Ethan Kadish with severe injuries that restructured his entire world. Ethan now uses a wheelchair and cannot walk, talk or use the bathroom on his own.
With support from family, friends and his community, Ethan has made incremental progress -- he can blink to answer ‘yes’ or ’no’ when asked a question -- but his injuries stripped him of many of the basic tools humans use to communicate with the outside world, and making his voice heard is still a struggle.
Related: A day in the life of Ethan Kadish
Smilg wanted to help his friend, and he knew he could use his own interest in programming to do it. His creation, a video board that can respond to Ethan’s limited movements and allow him to select pre-programmed answers to various questions, has helped Ethan communicate more easily with his friends and family. It could, Smilg told the crowd in Austria, do the same for non-verbal people all over the world.
When he spoke to the crowd at TEDxVienna, Smilg encouraged his audience to look for opportunities in their own communities to help people who cannot always express themselves in the same ways as others.
"The resources I used to create it are so accessible that anyone can get them and use them," he said.