It was with heavy hearts that FAAST learned of the news of Michael Phillips passing away on March 26, 2020. Even with such sad news, we, along with so many others, could not keep from remembering all that Michael meant to FAAST and to the disability community in Florida and throughout the country. Michael was a strong example that anything can be accomplished, no matter how high the hill is to climb or how many “no’s” stand in your way. Michael was fearless in his fight for independence and as a result opened many people’s eyes, serving as a source of motivation for people with and without disabilities. He along with his mother and caregiver, Karen Clay, continually supported FAAST in helping us achieve our mission, raising awareness at the Capitol, and being a living example of the importance of assistive technology.
He was a true champion to all and will be missed. FAAST sends its deepest condolences to Mike’s mother Karen, his brother Brian, and the entire family.
Below is an edited version of Michael Phillip’s obituary, with links to videos, assistive technology, and Michael’s blog.
Michael “Mike” Phillips
For his entire life, Mike was a staunch advocate for persons with disabilities. In 2017, he appeared on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Ari Melber to advocate the importance of Medicaid services for persons with disabilities. He also worked with companies like Apple, AssistiveWare, and Control Bionics to develop assistive technologies that could be used widely in the disability community.
Early on in 2008, Mike choked on some pineapple juice, aspirated, coded, and had to be resuscitated by (what Mike would describe as) “spectacular doctors, nurses, and paramedics,” at Tampa General Hospital. As Mike put it, “I died, but only for a little.” The incidence required that he be intubated, which eventually led to a tracheotomy, which meant he could no longer speak.
Mike quickly used his assistive technology skills through software like SwitchXS, Proloquo, Keystrokes, and text-to-speech technology, which allowed him to regain his voice through his computer.
Later in 2008, Mike appeared on Showtime’s “This American Life” hosted by Ira Glass. The episode was titled “Escape”, and it chronicled Mike’s early life living with a trach. At Mike’s request, Johnny Depp played his voice during the show (Edward Norton was unavailable). The episode won two Emmys, and Mike got to walk the red carpet the night of the awards.
Soon after the show aired, Mike worked with Peter Shann Ford to help develop his NeuroSwitch. The technology involved placing sensors on his forehead, which would pick up on small neural impulses when he would raise his eyebrows. This was his gateway to the world.
Early on in his adult life, Mike was a photographer, using a Nikon N90 camera and special assistive technology to point and shoot. In addition to photography, Mike had a passion for writing. He blogged heavily and had quite the following at www.lithiumcreations.com. Mike also fired a gun using assistive technology and was a gamer, too. He was an internationally ranked Hearthstone player (once as high as 3rd) and a Necromancer in the World of Warcraft game.
Michael Phillips passed away on March 26, 2020. He was 39. To learn more about Michael’s life and legacy, check out his episode of This American Life on Showtime or read about his passing in the Tampa Bay Times.