Don Moir was diagnosed with ALS in March 1995. By May of 1999, according to the video above, the nervous-system disease robbed him of his ability to speak when he was placed on a ventilator.
Thanks to Not Impossible Labs, a nonprofit that "crowd-solves" seemingly insurmountable healthcare issues, Don has learned to use a custom-designed speaking computer -- and he used it to tell his wife "I love you" out loud for the first time in 15 years.
Don has communicated for years with his wife, Lorraine, by using a letter board that requires picking out individual letters from the alphabet to form complete words. Aided by engineer Javed Gangjee, a volunteer with Not Impossible Labs and the SpeakYourMind Foundation, the two worked for 11 months to update the letter board for the digital world, using an HP laptop and a device to track Don's eye movements.
With the new digital letterboard, Don wrote his wife a love letter, which was "read" out loud to her:
My Dear Lorraine,
I can't imagine life without you. You have made the last twenty-five years fly by and the last twenty with ALS more bearable. I am looking forward to the next twenty five years.
Devices that help ALS patients speak through synthesized voices aren't new, and many of them employ picture or letter boards. But in an email to The Huffington Post, Matt Brassil, a publicity and strategy coordinator for Not Impossible, said Don had previously tried to use more complicated software but was "hesitant" about technology.
The hardest part of the project, he said, was overcoming Don's lack of experience with computers.
"His disease had taken away most of his abilities by the time the personal computer had become prominent," said Brassil. "We had to figure out a way to create something simple that Don could use. In the end, the answer was staring us in the face: the letterboard. Don and Lorraine had used the letterboard for 15 years. It was a system they understood so we took the next step to make a digital version."
The simplified device, which is still being fine-tuned according Not Impossible, could have a major impact for the Moir family.
"Don is so excited about the possibilities that it opens up for him," Lorraine told Not Impossible. "He is excited to talk to me, his friends and kids more freely. And he doesn't have to depend on me to do it. I will be able to drive and do the dishes and have a conversation with him."
In the spirit of Not Impossible's mission to use "technology for the sake of humanity," the nonprofit organization has made Don's Keyboard, as it's become known, available for download as freeware (for Windows operating systems only, at the moment).
Last year, Not Impossible figured out how to 3-D print prosthetic arms for amputees in Sudan.
Readers interested in donating to Not Impossible may do so at notimpossiblelabs.com, and to the SpeakYourMind Foundation at speakyourmindfoundation.org.