Imagine you’ve contemplated the great scientific theories of the past and arrived at new insights based on your own observations. Imagine you’ve organised these thoughts into compelling arguments. Imagine that what you have to say will likely advance humanity’s understanding of its existence. Now imagine your frustration if you were unable to use your physical voice or hands to speak or write the thoughts coalescing in your mind.
Such was the situation for Stephen Hawking, the great explainer of the universe, who died on March 14. He was a brilliant physicist who published more than 230 scientific articles, papers, books, book chapters and children’s books. He gave countless lectures and stretched humankind’s understanding of the nature of our existence.
Hawking was well-regarded by his scientific peers but also explained his thoughts in ways that make sense to everyone else. This is an unparalleled contribution for anyone, but especially for someone whose communication was severely limited by ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
At age 21, Hawking was given the standard two to five years to live after his ALS diagnosis. He beat the predictions. Hawking lived with the physical effects of this neurodegenerative disease for more than half a century.
Fortunately, Hawking lived in a time when researchers were rapidly developing electronic technology to assist people with physical limitations in achieving increased independence. Here at Montana’s University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities, we investigate and promote services and supports that increase quality of life, independence and integration of people with disabilities. For us, Hawking was a valuable role model for more than the next generation of scientists.
With his recognisable wheelchair and computer-generated voice, he demonstrated the value of technological solutions to liberating the voice of those with physical and communication disabilities.
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