Electronic Devices: Providing a Voice
Solutions for People Needing Assistance
Dr. Stephen Hawking is renowned for his contributions to physics, his best-selling
books, and his computer-generated voice. Hawking is almost completely
paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurological
disease also known as Lou Gherig's disease. Although paralysis prevents
Hawking from using his voice, he is able to speak through an electronic
device that allows him to write and use computer-generated speech by twitching
Known as computer-generated speech or augmentative and alternative communication
devices, these electronic devices are becoming an increasingly common
way for people to communicate when they are unable to move or speak because
of severe paralysis. In addition to ALS, people may become unable to speak
or move because of paralysis from
spinal cord injuries, stroke, brain injuries, and other conditions. People with locked-in syndrome,
for example, may have complete paralysis except the ability to move their
eyes. Despite this, they can operate these devices, allowing them to communicate.
The Power of Speech Devices
For people with these severe forms of
paralysis, a lack of speech can be emotionally devastating. Alternative and augmentative
devices allow people to express themselves and to have two-way conversations
with caregivers, their loved ones, and others.
Assistive technology can help people with varied communication limitations.
People with the most severe impairments may be able to speak by using
their eyes or another facial feature by directing a device. Devices may
be designed only to speak or they may connect to a computer that allows
a user to have computer and internet access.
An eye-tracking device, for example, may track eye movement for operating
a desktop or laptop computer. The device replaces a keyboard and mouse
by allowing the user to run the computer using only the eyes. Other programs
can work with an eye-tracking device to convert text or symbols into speech.
One option has more than 11,000 pre-programmed symbols and photos that
can be used to create additional symbols.
People who cannot speak but have more movement may be able to use their
hands to use text-to-voice software. The mouth may also be used to control
New Technology May Make Speaking Easier
As technology develops, communication may become even easier for people
who are unable to speak because of severe paralysis. Last year, news reports
revealed that Hawking was undergoing experiments with a California-based
company that is working to allow people who are unable to speak to communicate
merely by thinking.
Hawking wore a black headband with a small device attached, called the
iBrain, which picks up waves of electrical brain signals that change with
varied activities and thoughts. The waves are interpreted with an algorithm.
Researchers wanted to see whether the physicist could use his mind to
create a repeatable pattern that a computer could translate into a word
or a command.
The potential for the device was encouraging when reported last year. In
a statement at the time, Hawking said he was participating because he
wanted to encourage investment in this research and to offer hope for
people in his situation.
Get Help from an Attorney Today
While the science of these devices is incredible, there is no denying that
they can be expensive. If your loved one is unable to speak or move because
of an accident, an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney from
Biren Law Group can assess your case and help you determine the best path
towards securing fair and just compensation, including compensation for
the costs of an assisted speech device and other aids.