Letters: Stephen Hawking to many disabled people was a sense of pride and hope

Dear Editor,

Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the origin of the universe despite his physical circumstance, became emblematic of human determination and curiosity.

Negative attitudes such as “inspiration”, “overcoming disability” and references to “tragedy” often dominate discussions of disabled people.

Stephen Hawking in Cambridgefinal

Amid all the tributes to cosmology’s brightest star, he contributed perhaps unknowingly to many disabled people a sense of pride and hope.

A small percentage of people with motor neurone disease live for decades after their diagnosis.

Hawking was one rare outlier. His disease progressed rapidly at first and then slowed dramatically.

But it was the UK’s National Health Service which saved his life, notably with a tracheotomy in 1985, and when he succumbed to respiratory infections.

His tireless commitment to groundbreaking research and concern over Brexit, established him as someone who, though physically stripped of his voice, should be listened to.

Asked in an interview what puzzles him most in all the universe. "Women," he replied.

He popularised science, making complex theories and concepts more accessible to the masses, acquiring the world’s respect from his wheelchair. Prof Michio Kaku, at New York’s, City University said: “Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world.”

Stephen Hawking’s achievements alone will not in itself overturn deep-seated prejudice, but he played a significant role in shifting misconceptions that still routinely mark too many disabled people’s lives.

Hawking’s lesser-known lesson is one, others growing up disabled will be left with: we can all reach for the stars.

Yours sincerely,

Liam Kinsella,

Kilnamanagh.

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