The computer brought her the world

As a British resident it’s hard to gauge how well known the story of Martha Mason is over in the United States, but from the limited material I’ve been able to gather thus far she sounds about as inspirational a person as you’re likely to hear.

After being paralysed from the neck down as a result of childhood polio, Martha lived for more than 60 years in an iron lung – a 7-foot-long, 800-pound iron cylinder that encased all but her head. But rather than letting the situation put paid to her dreams of becoming a writer she determinedly and bravely continued her education. With the support of her parents – to the extent that they moved in to assist her while on campus – she excelled academically and swiftly landed a job as a journalist at a local paper following her graduation, with her articles dictated word-by-word to her mother.

Subsequent events, including the illness and death of her parents, meant that for decades she had little choice but to suspend the career she’d fought and studied hard for – that is, until she acquired a voice-activated computer with access to the web in the mid-to-late 90’s. Suddenly, with the aid of a microphone and associated assistive software, she could at last resume writing – only this time unaided. In 2003 she published her memoirs and in 2005 became the subject of a documentary film “Martha in Lattimore”.

The New York Times, reporting on her death in 2009 aged 71, beautifully summed up the freedom the web-enabled computer gave her:

With e-mail capability and Internet access the computer brought her the world. There, in her childhood home, with a microphone at her mouth and the music of the iron lung for company, she wrote her life story sentence by sentence in her soft Southern voice, with her own breath.

I don’t think there are many better demonstrations of the web improving a person’s quality of life.

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