“Flower gleam and glow. Let your powers shine. Make the clock reverse. Bring back what once was mine. Heal what has been hurt. Change the fates’ design. Save what has been lost. Bring back what once was mine…” -Rapunzel, Tangled
Kevin Berg’s 7-year-old daughter wants to watch the Disney movie Tangled with her dad while he works next to her—a child’s request that would have been impossible to grant only a few years ago. Berg, a computer technician who services small companies out of his home near Seattle, WA, was born with Cerebral Palsy.
With slurred speech and little motor skills, Berg, 37, would work long days tied to his desk staring into a computer screen and controlling a trackball with his chin. He would roll the ball around, look up at the screen, roll the ball around, look up at the screen. “It was painful to watch,” says Berg’s wife, Melinda, who acts as his translator. “We replaced the trackball every six months. He couldn’t get away.”
Then technology intervened: a magical tablet, touchscreen and head wand.
With a touchscreen and head wand, Berg is much faster on the computer, even beating out able-bodied computer consultants. He can serve up to six clients simultaneously via a remote support app, whereas in the past he could only handle two. “He went from doing something in 20 minutes to doing something in 2 seconds,” Melinda says.
On the social front, the portability of the tablet has literally opened doors. Berg can type 25 words per minute and have face-to-face meetings with clients using the tablet to relay his words. He can work anywhere, even in the living room watching Tangled with his daughter.
“I wouldn’t be able to live without technology,” he says. “It’s become a way of life.”
Berg’s close-knit relationship with technology started when he was eight and his parents gave him a Commodore 64. He became the go-to computer fix-it guy in high school and college, taking computers apart and swapping out components. A head wand helped him type on a keyboard.
Four years ago, Berg came across the HP TouchSmart PC with NextWindow optical touch screen technology. Like the story of Disney’s Rapunzel, the touch technology freed him from the bonds of the wicked trackball. “The optical touch is beautiful,” he says. “I can use my head wand and I don’t even have to touch the screen.”
He soon bought a Motorola Xoom tablet, which unchained him from his desk. For the last three months, he’s been working on the tablet full-time and plans to mount it on his wheelchair. Familiarity with the tablet has also helped business, as clients have been increasingly inquiring about it.
Berg works 20-hour days—he gets by on only four hours of sleep—servicing customers during the day and repairing computers at night. He doesn’t have much time for computer games or social networking, although he can see himself getting caught up in Farmville. “I’d get stuck there,” he says, jokingly.
Farmville aside, Berg loves the freedom new technology has given him. And he hopes to see even greater innovation down the road, such as the ability to control a computer, wheelchair, or even a robotic arm with mere thoughts. For Berg, technology is limitless in possibility and wonder.
Not surprisingly, Berg isn’t an Apple fanboy. “I find Apple too restrictive,” he says. “I like technology that I can hack and customize to my own personal liking.” Shortly after Berg got the Xoom, for instance, he rooted it and put in custom ROM.
Back in the living room, Berg remotely controls the television using his tablet. His daughter wants to watch Tangled over and over again. With a growing business and more freedom, Berg hopes to take his wife, daughter and 14-year-old son on a vacation, perhaps to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“The touchscreen helps me work but also helps me spend time with my family,” he says. “It helps me live a better life.”
Tom Kaneshige has been covering business and technology in Silicon Valley for two decades. As senior online writer at CIO.com, Tom covers Silicon Valley culture, BYOD and consumer tech in the enterprise.