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Popular Tongue Piercing Fad Serves Higher Purpose for Disabled

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Tongue Piercing Serves as Much More Than a Fashion Statement for Some

I’m no fan of the tongue piercing fad that has some younger people opting to get a needle shoved through their tongue.  However, when I read a recent article about those confined to wheelchairs and a new tongue pierce device that will allow them to operate the wheelchair hands-free, I thought differently about tongue studs.

Professor Invents Tongue Piercing-Controlled Wheelchair

Maysom Ghonvaloo of Georgia Tech University envisions a world where technology will allow the disabled to become increasingly independent.  His invention is a wheelchair that relies on sensors that pick up the movements of a magnet inside of a metal barbel placed in the tongue of the wheelchair user.  Other wheelchairs have relied on the sip-and-puff system, where a wheelchair user inhales or exhales slowly or quickly on a plastic tube to move.

New Wheelchair Faces Uphill Battle

Although the new tongue pierce wheelchair sounds like a great idea, it does face several barriers to widespread use.  First, it is costly compared to the older sip-and-puff wheelchairs.  Second, it’s not expected to hit the market until 2015.  Lastly, Ghonvaloo realizes that some older potential users will be put off by the thought of getting a tongue piercing.  However, the chair has many benefits, including that it is always on a user’s body and does not need to be mounted to a wheelchair or bed.  The device is also unaffected by speaking or eating, and could allow disabled users to access technology like cellphones.  Although the tongue pierce wheelchair must go through the regulatory process, liability questions, and the challenge of dealing with insurance companies, hopefully new technologies such as these will someday be available to wheelchair users and make their lives easier in the process.

Headline image source (CC BY-SA 3.0) Wikimedia Commons/Tommy T