By Sonja Patterson

Stephen Hawking, who died on March 14, 2018, at age 76, was an extraordinary person, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist—he was also an occupational therapy client. At age 21, when he was diagnosed with a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Lou Gehrig's disease), doctors gave him a life expectancy of 2 years.

Through the use of physical, occupational, and speech therapy, he prolonged his function and managed his condition. He is one of the greatest examples of someone using adaptive technologies to continue their work and overcome disability.

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at,” he said. He showed us how not to be idle. There is always something we can do and succeed in, however small. Find it; make it your motivation and passion. When we enjoy life’s activities, it is no longer work. Don't just keep the body busy, keep the mind active too. Hawking kept working until the end.

Hawking was the keynote speaker at the Occupational Science Symposium at the University of Southern California in 1990. Past AOTA President Florence Clark told the Los Angeles Times that Hawking had proven himself the perfect speaker for the symposium. “He makes such a strong statement about the essence of a person," she said in the article, explaining that occupational therapy looks at people's essences and the human ways in which we occupy ourselves, a quality that distinguishes humans from other animals.

Read the Los Angeles Times article for quotes from his keynote speech to the occupational therapy audience. He spoke about living with a disability and how he wanted to be known as a scientist who happened to be disabled, not a disabled scientist.

As Hawking also said, “Remember to look up at the stars, not down at your feet.” He had hoped someday to take a trip to the edge of space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship. May light speed you on your way there.

Sonja Patterson is AOTA’s Web & Social Media Administrator

 Photo of Stephen Hawking. Quote reads Aids like wheelchairs and computers can play an important role in overcoming physical deficiencies, but the right mental attitude is even more important. ________________

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