Today is a sad day. The world has woken up missing Stephen Hawking.
For those who knew him, it seems hard to believe that the man who coped with a dreadful neurodegenerative disease since the age of 21, for more than 50 years, and succeeded in becoming one of the most authoritative scientists of our time, has eventually surrended to the common destiny of every human being.
For his academic colleagues, and for the readers of his popular books, Stephen Hawking was a recognized and valued genius due to his studies on the origins of the universe and the nature of black holes.
For those who knew the public image disclosed by the networks, he was a disabled person suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, condemned by this progressive disease to the complete paralysis of the limb muscles and of muscles involved in speech, voice production, swallowing and ventilation.
The only picture we have seen, since many years, is a portray of him bound to a wheelchair, supported by special cushions, while looking at the screen of a tablet to communicate with the world through his eye movements.
Thanks to this unique residual movement, he has been able to dictate his books on a virtual keyboard and share with us the content of his brilliant thought.
None of us, not even his family members, can understand what Stephen Hawking's quality of life has been. We can be sure, however, that Stephen Hawking has significantly improved the quality of life of people who knew him, of people who shared the content of his studies and of all those people who were inspired by his paradigmatic life.
In his preface to the World Report on Disability, Hawking stated that "we have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities. Governments throughout the world can no longer overlook the hundreds of millions (namely 1 billion) of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education and employment, and never get the chance to shine"
These words have been spoken by an individual who has managed to "shine", to show his extraordinary potential, only thanks to advanced technologies.
It would be desirable that his exemplary life will teach us to judge and treat the so-called "people with disabilities" not on the basis of their limited body functions and structures, but of their abilities and of the potential they can develop, for the benefit of everyone else.
Maria Gabriella Ceravolo
President of the UEMS PRM Board
Prof Ordinario di Medicina Fisica e Riabilitativa - UNIVPM