For 26-year-old Ryan Nelson, reading books has always been a passion. But writing his own book? A dream, as Nelson has cerebral palsy, which makes him unable to move or speak. Instead, he communicates by blinking his eyes.
With the help of support worker Matt Harrison and BlackBerry 10 devices, Nelson authored his first book, The Crusades of Captain Rye and His Renegades, and is looking forward to writing the sequel. He made the tale of Captain Rye – based on Nelson’s life events and experiences – come to life, as well as created illustrations and published the chapters on blogs, all by using a Z10 and BlackBerry PlayBook. Using various methods for Ryan to communicate his story, Matt used the Z10 and PlayBook to transcribe the novel.
Martina Barrera-Hernandez: Ryan, what was it like having your novel and work come to life? What was it like working with Matt during this process?
Ryan Nelson: I was excited – I found it to be a great challenge and I was pumped to continue to the second book. It was energizing and inspirational, and gave me something to look forward to and think about. It really helped that Matt enjoyed the entire process, because communicating my ideas in enough detail and writing can be very lengthy. If I became discouraged, he would help give me the energy and will I needed, and he developed techniques that were better suited to my strengths and needs than anything else we had found available currently.
Martina: Describe how your communication process developed.
Matt Harrison: At first we relied on Ryan’s ability to communicate a “yes” or “no” with his eyes. It was apparent, however, that if we wanted to write a book based on his life, we had to figure out how to allow him to communicate in a more complex and descriptive manner. One method was with a game similar to 20 Questions, where Ryan would think of something specific, and through a series of questions we would gradually piece together his thoughts, whether it was an object or experience in his life. We then developed his letter board, and slowly practiced single-word communication by helping him choose letters. Eventually that transformed into more ambitious attempts – writing short letters, songs, and poems.
(Many other authors besides Ryan rely on their BlackBerry devices, including this newspaper editor, this tech blogger, this self-help author, this Canadian journalist, this entertainment writer, and this heavy metal rocker turned New York Times-best-selling author.)
Martina: What did you learn through the process of working on this project?
Matt: The project itself was a learning process, as Ryan is a unique individual – not only because of his communication, but because of how his mind works. Personally, the result was learning a lot about Ryan, about his values and views, and about his life. The most important thing I’ve learned is not to make assumptions, except for the assumption that Ryan doesn’t see things anything like I do. It’s taught me to accept that he has a lot more to teach me than I do him. We’ve also learned how to have a book published!
Martina: How did BB10 allow you and Ryan to tell the story of Captain Rye?
Matt: I’d like to say that any device could have allowed us to accomplish what we did. But, having tried multiple devices, nothing else could have allowed us to do what we’ve done with such speed and efficiency. Every stage of the project was an exercise and experiment in streamlining, due to the time required to progress through each part. The amount of physical and mental energy required of Ryan is, in itself, a huge obstacle, so having a device that could flow between apps and could also easily display on his large screen through a simple wire connection allowed us to focus our stamina on the slower processes. Namely myself! Keeping up with Ryan’s speed is critical, and not having to worry about or struggle with technology allowed more time and energy to be devoted to what was really important – what many of us might consider to be the simple act of telling a story. The entire story was written on a BB10 device, along with all the photo editing for illustrations, communicating with his support network, and monitoring of the blogs to which we posted the book chapter by chapter.
Martina: What would you say are your top three priorities when selecting devices to use?
Matt: For myself, it would simply be speed. And this is more than processor speed. This is the speed that comes from being able to flow between apps, from production to communication, through gestures rather than buttons, from apps running within apps, and proper background multitasking. It’s a speed that comes from efficiency, from the design of an OS that is molded to a user’s needs and convenience. It’s a speed that comes from knowing what the user needs to customize, and knowing what the device needs to learn from the user.
Martina: Why was convenience and ease so important when choosing a device to use? How did the Z10 help you work on the go?
Matt: I lead a pretty physically active lifestyle, and I cycle or walk as much as I can. I don’t spend much time at home, and have no interest in lugging a laptop around everywhere. I chose to use the Z10 for the entire book project to allow me to work on it wherever I was. The virtual keyboard I found second to none, and various aspects of the book required me to be in constant contact with Ryan and his network. Creativity, inspiration, and productivity are not things that can wait for convenient circumstance, so when they present themselves I need to be able to work no matter where I am. If I want to be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I need a seamless transition between work and leisure.
Martina: Which features or applications on BB10 were most useful for you in this process? How so?
Matt: Being able to rapidly switch between apps – for example between illustrations and the dice-rolling app [used to make decisions about events in the novel], or between the word processor and browser – was most important. There were so many aspects to the process that not having to worry about the technology allowed us to focus on the more difficult steps. Being able to install Android apps allowed us to choose the most fitting apps for our needs. Some were BlackBerry-native apps, such as Word and Photo Studio Pro, and other were Android, such as the dice and blog apps. Not having to reload the apps every time they were minimized was also a great time saver. And the simplicity and clarity of the File Manager allowed me to store and organize everything efficiently. The gesture-based control of the device was also something that contributed to the experience, as well as the overall function of the OS. These have made it impossible for me to even consider another operating system.
Martina: What’s your favorite app?
Matt: Photo Studio Pro is the one I had the most fun with. However, for practical purposes, the stock File Manager, BBM, and the camera were the most useful. Though I’m unsure if the Hub qualifies as an app, for the purpose of communication between texts and email, it is invaluable!
Martina: How did the choice of BB devices help you balance your work, social, and personal life while working on this book with Ryan?
Matt: The sheer amount of apps and constant need for communication the book project required was thankfully handled with ease on the Z10, allowing me to work on various aspects of it from anywhere, at any time. This relieved the pressure of having to complete the work at specific times, allowing me to pace the workload while still maintaining my personal and social life. The balance came from being able to blend when necessary, while not interrupting the flow of my lifestyle.
Martina: How are you planning on completing the next volume in the series?
Matt: In the exact fashion we completed the first. At this point we have a polished and streamlined process that incorporates the BB10 device.
Martina: How can technology like BB10/Z10/PlayBook help with similar projects in the future?
Matt: Technology is a tool, and for those who live with physical or mental challenges or disabilities, it can help them attain goals they may see as difficult or impossible to reach. Mobile technology brings the world to us, and us to the world – it allows communication and experience, and truly provides a voice to the voiceless. For someone like Ryan, it holds the promise of allowing him to eventually gain an independence he has never known: whether it be turning on his radio or light, changing the TV channel, speaking with a voice he’s never had, turning a page in a book, writing a letter to his mother, or writing a new book series completely on his own.
Martina: What would you suggest/advice would you give to others seeking to accomplish similar projects?
Matt: Take baby steps and enjoy every one. It’s the journey that counts.
Want to hear about BlackBerry’s commitment to the BB10 operating system? Read COO Marty Beard’s recent blog post Building the Quintessential BlackBerry Experience. If you’re in the market for a new BB10 device, get a factory-unlocked BlackBerry Passport from our global shopping portal, ShopBlackBerry.com (check with your local carrier for device compatibility).