Jan. 3 - A Taiwanese quadriplegic patient regains some control of his life through a pacifier-shaped switch that allows him to interact with the online world again. Sharon Reich reports.
INTRO: STORY: It's hardly noticeable. But this small pacifier in 32-year-old Yen Ching-hung's mouth has given him a new lease of life. Yen was paralysed from the neck down after a swimming accident 14 years ago. But now thanks to this device, Yen is actually able to operate a computer keyboard. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin)YEN CHING-HUNG, 32-YEAR-OLD QUADRIPLEGIC PATIENT SAYING: "When I first became paralysed, I thought life was meaningless, but I am happy to be the professor's 'lab rat' to test these devices, because I know I still have the ability to do things, and to contribute." It took Yen about two months to get used to, but using his mouth, he presses down on the pacifier in long and short intervals. A switch then uses Morse code to translate these presses into commands. As a result, Yen has full use of every function key on the keyboard and even the mouse. He can browse the Internet and update his status on Facebook -- all at the speed of 50 words per minute. The first generation switch was invented 10 years ago for Yen, by professor Lou Ching-hsing, of the National Cheng Kung University. Since then it has undergone modifications and is now the size of a USB storage drive. In October, Lou widened the scope of the pacifier technology and hosted a video game tournament for 60 patients. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) LOU CHING-HSING, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL CHENG KUNG UNIVERSITY CENTRE OF ADVANCED BIOMEDICAL SYSTEM, SAYING: "Through video games they can learn it fast, because they want to participate in the tournament. At the same time we allow the people with disabilities to see the development of advanced assistive technologies, demonstrate the results and bring it to the government's attention." Yen's mother Wu Shu-Chen says her son used to be severely depressed, but the assistive device has helped him focus on the positive. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin)WU SHU-CHEN, YEN CHING-HUNG'S 66-YEAR-OLD MOTHER, SAYING: "He can now freely browse the Internet, and look around. His body is trapped here, but his intellect and his soul are not trapped, he can freely travel and look around." Looking ahead, professor Lou says he is intent on making the device more widely available to patients. As for Yen, he's enjoying his virtual reality.