I’ve been thinking further about Stephen Hawking and his famous computerised voice; it is also a topic I have touched on in previous posts. I am referring to the use of assistive technology, used to breakdown communication barriers for people in the disability and Deaf communities’. This technology is also known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (A.A.C) and refers to a range of different devices, and communication methods, some examples of A.A.C are sign and gesture systems, communication boards, speech-generating devices, mobile phones with apps. Some are electronic, and others such as sign language (Auslan) aren’t.
I have always been curious about how Hawking was able to communicate so effectively with the use assistance of technology.
Initially Hawking used a computer that was at the back of his power chair, he had a program on it that put words on a screen in front of him, he then used a curser controlled by his hand to select the words he wanted to use, when he formed a sentence or word he required he then sent it to a speech synthesiser which converted his words from text to voice, in the early stages this was quite time consuming and took a lot of preparation.
With time Hawking was able to use technology like we see on our smart phones, such as predictive text to communicate at a more efficient rate and send the messages from the computer to the voice synthesiser using muscles in his cheek, via infra red technology also found in smart phones.
Hawking advocated for assistive technology to be available for all people with disabilities, he said in 2011 “we have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities.” Image description: an image of a smart phone sitting on a desk with the calculator open, next to it is note book and receipts.