Don Moir was diagnosed with ALS, a rare disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, before he had ever used a computer. Two decades later, a group called Not Impossible Labs built a custom interface that let Moir approximate normal speech for the first time.
The group combined high-tech eye-tracking software with the low-tech solution Moir and his wife Lorraine used to communicate after he lost his ability to speak in 1999. Reimagining the simple letter-board input method to which Moir was accustomed, the team at Not Impossible Labs, led by Javed Gangjee, gave Moir the ability to quickly select letters across groupings with his eyes. Their software then parsed the chosen letters into sentences that were spoken aloud by a computer.
The custom software —and Moir’s heartwarming message to his wife and caretaker—are captured in the video below. And yes, you’ll probably want tissues.
Non-digital letter boards are a common, low-cost communication aid for ALS patients, though Moir’s custom digital solution is a step up from the typical board. It should eventually let him type at four words per minute, a rate that can make conversations feel far more normal.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing with my program, looping through the letters,” explains Gangjee. “When he’s ready, he looks at the middle and voilà—his word is there.”