EXCLUSIVE: Magical Hack Job

Engineer reconfigures a Kindle so his sister with cerebral palsy can read Harry Potter.
Kindle+Brotherly Love = FrankenKindle. (Photo: Broadboard Confessions)
Aug 24, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

To bring a bit of magic to his big sister’s life.

That’s all Glenn Johnson, an electrical engineer from Santa Cruz, California, intended when he rolled up his sleeves and reconfigured an Amazon Kindle so that his sister with cerebral palsy could read books, like the Harry Potter series.

“My sister Amberly, who is 36, has severe cerebral palsy. She cannot walk,” Johnson, 32, tells TakePart. “Her hands are basically fists, and I just wanted her to be able to use an e-reader.”

Cerebral palsy is a chronic condition that affects both body movement and muscle coordination. According to the United Cerebral Palsy Association, it is estimated that 764,000 children and adults in the United States manifest one or more of the systems of disorder. The disease cannot be cured, but with treatment a person’s quality of life can be improved.

The FrankenKindle very much looks the part of a prototype, with exposed wires and a plywood mount. Then again, beauty wasn’t the point, says Johnson—functionality was.

“Her fine motor skills are such that she couldn’t use the small buttons on the front of the Kindle,” says Johnson.

He replaced the Kindle’s small keys with five large ones from V.Reader, a children’s e-tablet purchased at Best Buy.

That’s really it in a nutshell,” says Johnson. “I just want to make their lives easier.

Johnson tells TakePart that he will tweak the prototype after Amberly tests it—which won’t happen for a few months.

The siblings live in different cities and because Johnson’s wife is nine months pregnant, he is planning to wait so that Amberly “can meet her new niece and get to try out the FrankenKindle.”

The device certainly isn’t the first designed to assist people with cerebral palsy.

In 2007, two Oregon State University students invented the Spencer SkyArm, a device developed to help people with cerebral palsy move their arms.

And Proloquo2Go, an iPhone app created by AssistiveWare, allows children with cerebral palsy to express themselves utilizing text-to-speech technology.

While he waits for his sister's input, Johnson says he’s already considering adding a sip and puff switch for people who are quadriplegic.

He says that the entire point of the projects he engineers—he’s also made a joystick-operated USB mouse for Amberly—is to simplify the process by which disabled persons use electronics.

“That’s really it in a nutshell,” says Johnson. “I just want to make their lives easier.”