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Chapter 30. When a Button Is All That Connects You to the World

Arun Mehta

Professor stephen hawking can only press one button," was the one-line spec we were given.

Professor Hawking, the eminent theoretical physicist, has ALS. This disease is "marked by gradual degeneration of the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. The disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body."[104] He writes and speaks using the software Equalizer, which he operates via a single button. It uses an external box for text-to-speech, which is no longer manufactured. The source code for Equalizer has also been lost.

In order to continue to be able to function should his outdated hardware fail, he approached some software companies, requesting that they write software that might allow persons with extreme motor disabilities to access computers. Radiophony, the company that Vickram Crishna and I started, was happy to take up this challenge. We named the software eLocutor[105] and decided to make it free and open source, so that the problem with Equalizer should never reoccur.

The importance of such software in the life of a disabled person can hardly be overstated. Indeed, Professor Hawking himself is the best example of this. He has been able to become not only one of our leading scientists, but also an immensely successful author and motivator, only because software allows him to write and to speak. Who knows how much genius we have left undiscovered, ...

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