The Boston Globe had an article about how new technological advancements have helped people with disabilities regain independence and maintain a quality of life.  The author discusses the plight of Steve Saling who suffers from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive nerve disorder that slowly paralyzes patients while leaving their mind intact. They eventually lose the ability to even breathe.

Through a chance encounter shortly after his diagnosis, he teamed up with Barry Berman, chief executive of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, and helped to design the nation’s first residence for ALS patients needing nursing care. The Leonard Florence Center for Living’s Steve Saling Residence officially opened recently in Chelsea.  Using customized infrared technology, patients have far more independence than in a typical nursing home.  Saling uses a computer to communicate and activate assistance. His “voice’’ is the monotone of a computer, activated by an infrared beam he moves with almost imperceptible twitches of his head.  Tiny infrared transmitters in the ceilings connect to a master computer in the basement. This allows its residents to use small computers on their wheelchairs to summon an elevator, open and close doors, turn lights, televisions, and DVDs on and off, control the heat and air conditioning, even order meals from the cafe downstairs.

Using a teeny dot on his glasses that reflects an invisible infrared beam from a small sensor/transmitter on his wheelchair, he can control the “mouse’’ on his computer. He guides that mouse with subtle shakes of his head, and suddenly the shades come down in his bedroom, the lights go off, music comes on, and the door closes.

“I even have a remote-controlled bidet to wash and dry my bum, so that I maintain that independence,’’ he said, using the infrared beam to tap letters on the screen, telling his computer voice what to say.

The Chelsea project “will show everyone that a vented life can be a quality life,’’ Saling said. “It is the honor of a lifetime to be involved with this paradigm-shifting venture.’’

“There is promising technology that will allow the computer to be controlled by thought alone,’’ he said. “I am considering participating in a trial that hopes to make that a reality.’’

“Until medicine proves otherwise, technology is the cure,’’ Saling said. “Thanks, and remember, life is good.’’


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