A Brave Young Man
eleven year old Steve Harper, unable to speak due to the physical
disability, cerebral palsy, had never heard of Morse code and was
struggling to communicate with a head stick, symbol board and
typewriter. Using these methods made communication arduous since someone
had to be right there with Steve when he tried to get his messages
understood. He slowly signaled by pointing to various symbols and
letters. First he had to gain the undivided attention of an adult and
then feebly attempt to have them understand his erratic gestures. Even
using the typewriter was awkward and painful. People often ignored what
he wrote making him constantly discouraged. His frustration with being
unable to enjoy normal activities for children of his age was aggravated
by his inability to interact with others effectively. He felt very
little independence as speech eluded him, so that he had trouble getting
same year the University of Washington received a grant to research the
use of Morse code as an assistive technology for the disabled.
Steve’s speech therapist
enabled him to be a subject of the research grant at the University of
Washington where he was taught the Morse code.
Steve was chosen as one of
four children to participate in this research.
Although Steven and his
parents neither liked learning code and initially resisted it, within
only two weeks he had mastered the forty-four Morse code characters. He
says his life became much easier after he began using the Morse code
communicator because he got his messages out twice as fast as before and
he gained independence so he could function all by himself.
since then he has used Morse code as his assistive technology. He has a
lot more independence due to Morse code being adaptable to the computer.
Anyone using the technology can write and then “speak” by using a speech
synthesizer. Morse code has made Steve’s life and the lives of other
disabled people easier.
recently, Steve Harper serves as a volunteer mentor for the disabled at
the University of Washington. Telling his story he says that he could
neither walk nor talk due to an oxygen deficiency that occurred at
birth. He says, “I
use a Morse code communicator, which is mounted on the front of my
wheelchair. I have two switches on each side of my head where I tap out
the Morse code. The right side switch is dots, left side is dashes, and
I drive my wheelchair using my head, too. I have this thing called "KE:NX,"
a special adapter that allows me to use my Morse code with a MAC computer
so I can really communicate with you.”
young man who has overcome major physical obstacles, he is now a computer
technology guru and believes that much of his accomplishment is a result
of his experience with the Morse code. More of his story
Morse Code Assists in Medical
A 79 year old English woman was
injured in a fall and suffered severe brain damage. She was unable to
move or speak but she could still understand her surroundings. Her
knowledge of Morse code helped her to communicate with those around her.
Her son Alan sat at her bedside for 16 weeks while she recovered and
thought about ways to communicate with her. He remembered that she had
learned Morse code as a child from her father. Alan says, “Of course she
hadn’t used it for 60 years so obviously she was rusty, but remembered it
and it all grew from there.”
Alan Jones made a communication
device out of a margarine tub and shower curtain ring. Mrs. Jones can
understand what people are saying but must use the Morse code to respond.
The first thing she said using the code was “How is Fred?” in reference
to her pet tortoise. Her son Alan is now working on a way to have her
Morse code tapping appear on a computer screen for faster communication.
It was good that Mrs. Jones’s father taught her Morse code. You never
know when it will be needed. Her full story can be found
A friend of the author suffered
from ALS (Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis) also known as Lou Gehrig’s
Disease, so named for a famous New York Yankees first baseman. 2,130
consecutive games played from 1925 through 1938 earned him the nickname
of the “Iron Horse “. During his career Lou set over 20 records
including four home runs in one game! With a lifetime batting average of
340, when he was stopped by a mysterious illness, a disease of the motor
neurons, muscle-controlling nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that
control voluntary muscle movement. His body literally wasted away.
Following Lou’s death, ALS was given the name of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
The author’s friend suffered a
similar fate, and after diagnosis was informed that he might survive,
with proper care, up to five years. His condition rapidly deteriorated
and he soon began to lose his ability to speak. Bedridden, he scratched
notes and family members learned to read his grunts, but his mind
continued to function normally, making him increasingly frustrated.
After we shared the Morse code program with him known as “Code Quick,” he
learned it rapidly and began to communicate by blinking Morse code with
his eyes. No longer unable to communicate, he appeared to be much more
contented during his final days of life.
It has been reported that people
who are both blind and deaf have been taught to communicate with Morse
code through the use of a skin buzzer. Imagine how this simple technology
might have helped Helen Keller as she struggled to understand and
communicate without hearing or sight during her early years.
Morse code has had numerous uses
over time, but the most compassionate is its application with the sick
and disabled. With limited sensory ability, the patient’s capacity to
maintain communication with loved ones and family continues to offer hope
and encouragement during degenerative illnesses. People at Handi-ham
exist to provide free information and services for people suffering
disabling conditions . Read more about how Handi-ham might help
R. Wheeler W6TJP