Marin artist overcomes disabilities to sell work online

Sam Fried

Hanna Eide uses the communication device mounted on her wheelchair while her father Hans Eide reads along at their home in Novato, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal) Hanna Eide looks at her artwork on her Instagram account at home in Novato, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. […]

Like many digital stores, the online business is bursting with holiday-themed earrings, T-shirts, pendants and posters embossed with original art.

The difference: Everything for sale is created and marketed through a single joystick-like device affixed to the right side of Hanna Eide’s high-tech wheelchair.

Born with spinal muscular atrophy type 1, Eide, a Novato resident, can only move her right hand and is unable to speak or use sign language. The device is her only communication portal.

“Be Your Own Fab!” her website reads. “I’m Hanna Eide, and I’m a lot of fabulous things, but one of them is that I’m a digital artist!”

Eide, 25, has worked with Marin County special education tech specialist Dan Phillips since age 2. Phillips is director of the San Rafael-based Technology Resource Center, a program administered by the Marin County Office of Education that offers tech solutions to enhance the lives of special education students.

Aided by Phillips and the technology he arranged, Eide graduated from Novato High School in 2015. In 2018, she completed a two-year web design certificate program at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“Technology keeps getting better,” said her father Hans Eide, who owns a Novato auto repair shop. “It really helps someone like Hanna — it gives them a way to talk.”

Her mother Leo said Eide arranges her own medical appointments and orders her own supplies and materials.

“She runs everything through the wheelchair,” her mother said. “It’s a communication device and a computer.”

The Tobii Dynavox equipment includes a controller, a cellphone and a tablet. Because there is a time lag for Eide’s words to come through the wheelchair, she attached a small note that reads: “Please be patient. I use a communications device.”

The note accompanies emails she sends to health care providers and vendors.

Since she cannot speak, Eide must type her words into a computer keyboard, which translates the message into the medium of her choice. Within minutes, the system releases the message in spoken language or written texts or posts.

“She’s extremely fast,” Hans Eide said. “If you or I had to do it, it would take four times as long.”

Eide, who is on a ventilator, requires constant care. When she was born, doctors said she would not live past age 2.

When she is in bed, her position must be changed every couple of hours. The family has arranged for home health care nurses around the clock, her mother said.

Her sister Erika, 28, recently received her nursing license and might be able to help with her sister’s care, Leo Eide said.

Despite Eide’s serious physical limitations, her spirit is boundless, said Mary Jane Burke, Marin superintendent of schools. Burke’s office oversees the county’s special education program

Burke has kept in touch with Eide over the years via Twitter.

“Hanna truly is amazing!!!!” Burke said in an email, apparently borrowing Eide’s love of exclamation points.

Eide, who started her online store last year, said she has beefed up the gifts for sale on and other social media for the holidays. On Instagram, she added snippets of music, including one from the Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger” for a picture of an eye with tiger stripes in the pupil.

In recent weeks, she added a clip from “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by Kim Wilde and Mel Smith, to a Christmas tree image.

“I’ve sold quite a number of gifts so far,” her voice avatar said, a touch of pride discernible amid the robotic-tinged words.

Marin artist overcomes disabilities to sell work online

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