TEDx speaker Henry Evans gives out candy and opens his fridge … via robot!

Today in the world’s a pretty amazing place — how quadriplegia hasn’t stopped Henry Evans from shaving, giving out Halloween candy, or even flying over his garden.

In today’s TED Talk — given at TEDxMidAtlantic  — we meet Henry Evans. In 2003, Henry became quadriplegic and mute after a stroke-like attack. But thanks to the help of Robots for Humanity — a collective of folks working to use robots to help the severely disabled live more independent lives — Henry can now shave, fetch himself a drink, even play soccer against other people with quadriplegia.

Henry’s world exploration isn’t limited to the ground, either. Henry can use the subtle movements of his head to fly a drone over his garden, onto his roof, or even on the other side of the country at Robotics For Humanity’s headquarters, all while wearing a virtual reality helmet that immerses himself in the flying robot’s universe.

In the talk, Henry tells how robots have changed his life, and how he hopes they will soon change others’:

For about two years, Robots for Humanity developed ways for me to use the PR2 as my body surrogate,” he says. “I shaved myself for the first time in 10 years … I handed out Halloween candy. I opened my refrigerator on my own. I began doing tasks around the house. I saw new and previously unthinkable possibilities to live and contribute, both for myself and others in my circumstance…

One hundred years ago, I would have been treated like a vegetable. Actually, that’s not true. I would have died.

It is up to us, all of us, to decide how robotics will be used, for good or for evil, for simply replacing people or for making people better, for allowing us to do and enjoy more. Our goal for robotics is to unlock everyone’s mental power by making the world more physically accessible to people such as myself and others like me around the globe.”

Take a few minutes and watch the whole talk. You’ll be glad you did.

From Amy Purdy’s TEDxOrangeCoast talk, "Living beyond limits. Amy is a professional snowboarder who lost her legs at age 19 due to bacterial meningitis. In her TEDx talk, she describes how she dealt with this loss, and encourages us to take control of our lives — and our limits.

Watch Amy’s entire talk below,
and learn more about Amy and her non-profit Adaptive Action Sports, dedicated to introducing people with physical challenges to action sports at her website.

Deep sea diving … in a wheelchair? Artist Sue Austin takes her wheels underwater to combat limiting views of disability

After a battle with illness damaged her ability to walk, artist Sue Austin started using a wheelchair. In a talk at TEDxWomen, she describes how beginning to use a wheelchair — something she found exciting and freeing — inspired people she knew to treat her differently:

"Even though I had this new-found joy and freedom," she says in her talk, “people’s reaction completely changed towards me. It was as if they couldn’t see me anymore, as if an invisibility cloak had descended.

"They seemed to see me in terms of their assumptions of what it must be like to be in a wheelchair.

"When I asked people their associations with the wheelchair, they used words like ‘limitation,’ ‘fear,’ ‘pity’ and ‘restriction.’ I realized I’d internalized these responses and it had changed who I was on a core level. A part of me had become alienated from myself. I was seeing myself not from my perspective, but vividly and continuously from the perspective of other people’s responses to me.

"As a result, I knew I needed to make my own stories about this experience, new narratives to reclaim my identity."

Sue began to factor her wheelchair into her art, hoping to encourage viewers to reconsider the way they look at disability — to show that a wheelchair isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to experience the world in a different way.

One way she did this was by working with a team to create a self-propelled wheelchair that works underwater, allowing Sue to scuba without leaving her chair.

I realized that scuba gear extends your range of activity in just the same way that a wheelchair does,” she says in her talk, “but the associations attached to scuba gear are ones of excitement and adventure — completely different to people’s responses to the wheelchair. So I thought, ‘I wonder what will happen if I put the two together?’

At first, the goal seemed impossible: “When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it wouldn’t work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed to go through water — but I was sure it would,” Austin told the BBC. But things worked out, and the results are quite spectacular. “If you just put a thruster under the chair all the thrust is below the center of gravity so you rotate,” she said. “It was certainly much more acrobatic than I anticipated.”

Watch Sue’s entire talk below, and see more of her art at her website.

In 2010, artist Sue Austin began to work with a team to create an underwater wheelchair that would allow her to navigate the depths of the world’s oceans. In her talk at TEDxWomen 2012, featured on TED.com last week, she explained how the art she creates with her re-purposed wheelchair aims to reshape how we think about disabilities:

I realized that scuba gear extends your range of activity in just the same way that a wheelchair does. But the associations attached to scuba gear are ones of excitement and adventure — completely different to people’s responses to the wheelchair. So I thought, ‘I wonder what will happen if I put the two together?’

At first, the goal seemed impossible: “When we started talking to people about it, engineers were saying it wouldn’t work, the wheelchair would go into a spin, it was not designed to go through water — but I was sure it would,” Austin told the BBC. But things worked out, and the results are quite spectacular. “If you just put a thruster under the chair all the thrust is below the center of gravity so you rotate,” she said. “It was certainly much more acrobatic than I anticipated.”

Cross-posted from the TED Blog, where you can read many more of the great stories behind TED and TEDx Talks.