Students who communicate electronically among guests attending Hawking memorial
Three students who all use devices like the famous scientist have been invited to the Westminster Abbey event.
Three young people who communicate electronically will be among the guests attending the memorial service for Professor Stephen Hawking.
Jason Felce, 20, Jack Smith, 21, and Rose Brown, 20, all use electronic communication devices to enable them to speak, just as Prof Hawking did.
The trio are all students at National Star College in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, a specialist further education college for young people with disabilities and learning difficulties from across the UK.
They have been invited to attend the memorial service at Westminster Abbey on Friday where the ashes of Prof Hawking will be interred between the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
The world-renowned cosmologist, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in his twenties, died at the age of 76 in March.
His three children, Robert, Lucy and Tim, offered up to 1,000 free tickets to the public through a ballot run by the Stephen Hawking Foundation.
“Prof Hawking was the first person I ever saw using an electronic communication device,” said Mr Felce, who controls his equipment with eye movement.
“He has inspired me to be the best that I can be and not let anything, including my disability, hold me back.”
Mr Felce was born with cerebral palsy and his family were told that, if he survived, he would not be likely to do anything in life. He is in his first year of college at National Star and hopes to be a DJ.
Miss Brown, who is studying drama at the college, suffered serious head injuries in 2009 at the age of 12 when she was hit by a drink-driver who mounted the pavement striking a group of pedestrians, killing two.
“I got a brain injury following a hit and run accident,” she said.
“I can’t walk and talk. I communicate using a computer which I control using a switch and moving my head.
“I am going to be an actress. Everybody who puts their mind to something gets to be it. Stephen Hawking proves this more than anyone.”
Mr Smith was seven when he was struck by a car on a crossing, receiving a brain injury. His family was told it would be a miracle if he survived, let alone achieve anything in his life.
He uses an electronic device to speak which he controls by typing with his hands. He is in his second year at college studying sport.
“Prof Hawking was most famous for his science and the fact that he used a communicator is second,” said Mr Smith.
“He’s been a huge inspiration to me.”
Prof Hawking was a supporter of National Star and his daughter Lucy is vice-president of the charity.
“The opportunity for students and staff to attend the memorial of Professor Hawking is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for which we are extremely grateful,” said Emily Harris, speech and language therapist at the college.
“He was a role model and advocate for people with disabilities, and specifically people using communication devices.
“He is a positive example for us all of how you can contribute to society in a positive way, be a pioneer and leader in your field regardless of disability.”