How Stephen Hawking Lives With ALS and Disabilities

The scientist continues to break ground in research

Stephen Hawking
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World renowned scientist Stephen W. Hawking has not allowed his disabilities from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, to stop him from thriving personally and professionally.

Early Life and ALS Diagnosis

Hawking was born on Jan. 8, 1942, in Oxford, England, to Frank and Isobel Hawking. His curiosity about how the universe worked revealed itself in his youth. As a young man, Hawking studied cosmology at the University of Cambridge.

During this time, tragedy struck the budding scientist. He received an ALS diagnosis when he was just 21. Before his diagnosis, he'd exhibited ALS symptoms such as slurred speech and falling. The disease shuts down the nerves that control the muscles, leading to disabilities.

His father noticed the symptoms and told his son to seek help. The devastating diagnosis did not end Hawking's scientific pursuits. He consistently defied expectations, including those of doctors who gave him only three to five years to live with the disease. 

In 1965, Hawking married Jane Wilde. He also poured himself into his work for fear that he would not live to earn a doctorate. He began groundbreaking research into black holes and had three children, Robert, Lucy, and Timothy, with Wilde. Wheelchair-bound in 1969, Hawking continued to work, writing his first book, "The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time" (1973).

Hawking Becomes a Celebrity

By the following year, Hawking became a celebrity, thanks to his finding that black holes weren't information vacuums, as widely thought. He discovered that through radiation, matter eludes the gravitational pull of collapsed stars. 

As his career reached new heights, his health worsened, however.

With severe disabilities, Hawking needed assistance to do almost everything, and his speech became indecipherable. A tracheotomy resulted in him losing his voice permanently, and a computer programmer developed software that allows Hawking to communicate through a speech synthesizer. The computer program allows Hawking to continue working, researching and writing.

Hawking's Notable Works

Hawking has achieved international acclaim as an author and for his work in quantum gravity and theoretical cosmology. He holds numerous degrees and has won more than a dozen awards for his scientific research. In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded Hawking the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The scientist has published many books, including the following:

  • "A Brief History of Time"
  • "The Universe in a Nutshell"
  • "Black Holes, Baby Universes and Other Essays"
  • "A Briefer History of Time" with Leonard Mlodinow
  • "The Grand Design" with Leonard Mlodinow
  • "George's Secret Key to the Universe" with Lucy Hawking
  • "George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt" with Lucy Hawking

Wrapping Up

In the 21st century, Hawking continues to be one of the world's most famous scientists. He's made appearances on television shows such as "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Simpsons." His writing has made complex topics, such as physics, time travel and the Big Bang accessible to the masses.

He continues to find ways to transcend ALS. In 2011, he took part in a trial of a device called iBrain, which aims to interpret a person's thoughts via "waves of electrical brain signals." The device could be a godsend to people with disability-causing diseases such as ALS.

In 2014, "The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne, chronicled Hawking's life story. 

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