Friday, January 19, 2007

Technology around Stephen Hawking

Hawking is severely disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (a type of motor neuron disease.)
When he was young, he enjoyed riding horses and playing with the other children. At Oxford, he coxed a rowing team, which, he stated, helped relieve his immense boredom at university. Symptoms of the disorder first appeared while he was enrolled at Cambridge. He lost balance and fell downstairs, hitting his head. Worried of losing his genius, he took the Mensa International test to verify that his intellectual abilities were intact. Diagnosis came when Hawking was 21, shortly before his first marriage, and doctors said he would not survive more than two or three years. He battled the odds and has survived much longer than any other known ALS patient[3], although he has become increasingly disabled by the gradual progress of the disease.
He gradually lost the use of his arms, legs, and voice, and is now almost completely paralyzed. The computer system attached to his wheelchair is operated by Hawking via an infra-red 'blink switch' clipped onto his glasses. By scrunching his right cheek up, he is able to talk, compose speeches, research papers, browse the World Wide Web and write e-mail. The system also uses radio transmission to provide control over doors in his home and office.
During a visit to the research center CERN in Geneva in 1985, Hawking contracted pneumonia, which in his condition was life-threatening. It resulted in acute difficulty of breathing, which could only be overcome through a tracheotomy by which Stephen Hawking lost his natural speech ability. He has since used an electronic voice synthesizer to communicate. The voice synthesizer, which has an American accent, is of a model that is no longer produced. Asked why he has still kept it after so many years, Hawking mentioned that he has not heard a voice he likes better and because he identifies with it. Hawking is said to be looking for a replacement since, other than being obsolete, the synthesizer, a DECtalk DTC01 is now considered large and fragile but as of present, finding a software alternative has been difficult. During a lecture in Hong Kong in June 2006, he joked that if he got a new one with a French accent, his wife would divorce him.
When Hawking (then using a wheelchair and unable to dress himself) and his wife were first living together, they received no outside assistance other than from physics students who helped in exchange for extra attention with their work. As his condition worsened, Hawking needed a team of nurses to provide round-the-clock care. He also needed a wheelchair for mobility.
Despite his disease, he describes himself as "lucky" — not only has the slow progress of his disease provided time to make influential discoveries, it has also afforded time to have, in his own words, "a very attractive family"[4]. When Jane was asked why she decided to marry a man with a 3-year life expectancy, she responded: "These were the days of atomic gloom and doom, so we all had rather a short life expectancy."

Source: Wikipedia

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