By Pichi Chuang
When I first saw Yan Ching-hong, I was amazed how he could surf the internet, interact with friends on Facebook and even play video games on a computer just like any other 32-year-old.
Yan is paralyzed from the neck down, seemingly ruling out any of the kind of activities most of us take for granted. When I walked in, he was updating his Facebook status to “Busy. You can never imagine who’s interviewing me now.”
Yan has been confined to his bed since damaging his spine jumping into a swimming pool 14 years ago. He spent three months in intensive care and needs the help of a tube to breathe for the rest of his life. In his depression, Yan once suggested ways for his mother to end his life.
But things changed dramatically when he was introduced to a project by Professor Luo Ching-hsing of the Center of Advanced Biomedical Systems, Department of Electrical Engineering at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University.
Luo had invented a device shaped like a baby’s pacifier that allows paralyzed patients to type on a keyboard with Morse code. With simple long and short presses, the switch translates the 26 letters of the alphabet, all of the computer function keys, and can even be used as a mouse. The current version of the switch has been modified to the size of a USB drive and is even more accurate in distinguishing long and short signals, compared to the first version 10 years ago.