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 his cheek.

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 a computer.

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.