Hawking, Woltosz, and the Beginning of Everything

19-Jan-2015

Movie poster for Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything”

The popular film “The Theory of Everything” has delighted critics and moviegoers alike. British actor Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking has received rave reviews, and the approval of Professor Hawking himself. Recent accolades for the performance include a win at the Golden Globes and a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Redmayne.

A by-product of the film’s success has been a surge in interest in augmentative and alternative communication. It is beyond the scope of a feature film to delve into the details of how Professor Hawking uses assistive technology to communicate, but since the film’s release the media is doing just that. An excellent article, “How Intel Gave Stephen Hawking a Voice” by Joao Medeiros, appears in the January 2015 online edition of WIRED Magazine. In it he mentions Walter Woltosz, an engineer who in 1985 was CEO of a company called Words Plus. At that time he had created the technology to help his mother-in-law (who had ALS) to speak and write. Woltosz readily agreed to share his experience to assist Professor Hawking in developing a communication system, saying he would “donate whatever was needed.”

In Professor Hawking’s acceptance speech for the ISAAC Lifetime Achievement Award in July 2014, he mentions Walt Woltosz’s tremendous contribution to his ability to communicate using computer technology.

It must be incredibly satisfying for those who have been on the forefront of AAC technology to have their life’s work widely recognized. The current conversation about AAC is sure to help those who may not otherwise have heard about all that is possible to make sure everyone has a voice.

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