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Episode 7: Innovation Born from Adversity—Tom Dixon talks about his No Barriers Story

Thomas DixonErik and Jeff speak with Tom Dixon, a young man from Philadelphia and the inventor of a brilliant mobile app called ME.mory. Like most app inventors, Tom identified a need that wasn’t being met and created software to address that need. His tragic accident and unique story behind his creation is what sparked our hosts’ interest and what makes Tom a true No Barriers Pioneer.

Eight years ago, in what Tom refers to as his “old life,” he was on track to being a psychiatrist for children when he was hit by a car while out for a run. When he awoke in the hospital, he was made aware he had sustained a traumatic brain injury which caused him to have severe memory loss.

“I tell people it was a day I’ll never remember, and a date I’ll never forget.”

He kept a notepad by his hospital bed to remember details such as what he had eaten that day and names of people who visited him. Without these notes, Tom would eat multiple meals and recalled very little of his interactions.

Tom discusses memory and how most people forget the “overwhelming majority of their lives,” meaning the day-to-day tiny details that make up our everyday experiences. He notes: “It’s really great that we can forget actually, it’s very efficient.”

When asked about the trials and the blessings that have resulted from his injury, Tom mentions experiencing higher empathy for other people who have also had trauma. The flip side is convincing others of his capabilities and establishing independence all over again as a young adult.

“Other people will tell you about their own pain, their own struggling . . . You can relate to having fallen, having struggled.”

Tom touches on the difficulties of having what is called “an invisible disability” and some barriers that those with “visible” disabilities might not encounter, like being questioned about using ADA resources, and having others not immediately understand parts of your experience.

As for blessings, Tom mentions that his injury occurred during a time of tech innovation and the advances in our world of technology have helped him immensely to be independent and succeed.

“I had this injury at the right time, so to speak, because we carry computers around in our pockets in the form of a phone. There are so many workarounds now with modern technology.”

Based on his experiences, Tom created an app called ME.mory that lets him record a “digital memory.” It’s searchable and accessible. He adds in event details about his life, maybe even attaches an emotion to his experience to help jog his memory and document the occasion.

He talks about searching his app to remind himself about his first experience meeting our host, Erik, at a talk he gave in Philadelphia and his thoughts on their interaction. Later, Tom recalls his time at the No Barriers Summit in Tahoe in 2017, which he attended as a Reach Award winner through Erik’s Reach Foundation.

When talking about the concept of living in the moment that folks often see in Tom’s journey, he reflects: “Who are we but our past moments? We like to think we are carefree at any given moment but we need a sense of direction, a sense of purpose.”

Tom’s app, ME.mory, has applications to many other populations of people around the world—people who are experiencing memory loss as a result of injury or illness, and even, as he recently learned, to parents who like to use it as a tool to record memories of their kids.

Tom’s app is helping others around the globe and is full of potential for uses we might not even foresee yet. He’s also finalizing his memoir titled “I’m Sorry . . . That’s Awesome!” It covers his injury, recovery, and his journey in inventing ME.mory.

Check out the website for his app for any updates! (ME.mory is currently off the app store for updates): ME.mory,

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————————— EPISODE TRANSCRIPT —————————–

Erik: Hey this is Erik Weihenmayer. And this is our No Barriers podcast. And I’m hosting with my friend, Jeff Evans. I’m one of the co-founders of No Barriers and Jeff is one of the co-founders of our Warriors Program. So we’ve been doing this podcast. This is number six for us. So we have an amazing person today to speak to. He’s part of our No Barriers community. And to kick things off, how you doing Jeff?

Jeff: I’m good, just [00:00:30] doing a little research on Tom, our guest here, that got me thinking just how technology these days is really created and supposed to be a conduit to making life a little bit easier and smoother and all these things. Because that’s part of what Tom does and we’re gonna learn that throughout this interview with him. But I mean, Erik, you and I swap war notes all the time about being on the road and how just [00:01:00] challenging it is to juggle everything. To juggle family and work and just being fit and staying on top of our game and then giving time for ourselves as well.

And it’s just so hard to manage all of that. And so reading a little bit about Tom’s bio got me thinking about how tough it must be to be able to walk in his shoes. So I’m really looking forward to talking to Tom.

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