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Agent of Change: Stephen Hawking

This month we turn our attention to Stephen Hawking - an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist who spent the majority of his life in a wheelchair suffering from motor neuron disease. In spite of this degenerative disease, he lived his life to the best of his ability and continued to contribute to society in enormous ways.


One of the world's greatest scientists, Stephen Hawking will leave a long-lasting legacy full of discovery and hope. However he has also left a profound mark on those people that suffer from disability showing them not to lose hope.

He was a British cosmologist and physicist famously known for his notable works regarding the theoretical prediction of radiation emission from black holes (Hawking radiation), Penrose–Hawking theorems, the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

In addition to his enormous contribution to the scientific community, it is his contribution to disability advocacy that proves what a remarkable human being he was.

Hawking had a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease which eventually paralysed him over future decades. For someone of his calibre to lose the ability to speak and contribute would have been a significant loss to mankind.

To ensure he could continue contributing, he used several gadgets to give lectures and communicate with people since he lost the ability to speak as we do. The use of assistive technologies such as speech generating devices, supported by machine transcription gave Hawkings a voice. This technology paved the way for many others with similar disabilities.

In the 1990s, Hawking accepted the mantle of role model for disabled people, lecturing and participating in fundraising activities. At the turn of the century, he and eleven other luminaries signed the Charter for the Third Millennium on Disability, which called on governments to prevent disability and protect the rights of the disabled.

What is remarkable about Stephen Hawking’s life is that in spite of his debilitating disability, it did not stop him from contributing to the scientific and educational communities.

'Remember to look up at the stars'

On several occasions, Hawking advocated for living the best life you can.

"Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet," Hawking said in the birthday message. "Try to make sense of what you see and about what makes the universe exist. Be curious."

Hawking also refused to allow his disability to hold him back physically, mentally or spiritually.

"I don't have much positive to say about motor neuron disease. But it taught me not to pity myself, because others were worse off and to get on with what I still could do," Hawking told The New York Times. "I'm happier now than before I developed the condition. I am lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap."

He also advised that other people suffering from serious illnesses to not "be disabled in spirit". 

"While there's life, there is hope"

There certainly is, Mr. Hawking