Reading letters with my tongue

Today, I tested a device called a Brainport. It allows blind people to perceive objects using a camera mounted on glasses which sends the image to an electrode held on the tongue. The tongue receives the pixels of the image as current which the brain sends to the visual cortex to decipher.

Still at the research stage of the development, today I took part in a trial of the device which is about to be put forward for FDA approval and hopefully commercial availability. It wasn’t like normal seeing, but it was similar to the alternative sense of vision that I get from touching things.

The difference is I could see a letter on a card that I couldn’t feel with my hands. I’m in the U.S. at the moment taking part in an intensive physical therapy program at Project Walk in southern California to try and regain feeling and movement in my paralysed legs.

This program and the Brainport use the principles known as neuroplasticity – that the brain and the nervous system is plastic, that it can adapt and re-learn new ways to behave after such catastrophic injurie. Five weeks in america and I’m leaving with hope for both my vision and chances of getting out of my wheelchair eventually. Exciting!

29 Responses to “Reading letters with my tongue”

  1. 1 Gary March 30, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Really, Really great to get your blogs, they usually hit when I need a reminder that there is only one way forward and thats the Pollock way.

    Keep going, Keep blogging.


  2. 2 Len Dunne March 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Amazing stuff Mark. Great to see progress. Len

  3. 3 Mike Buckley March 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Mark, that is incredible stuff to watch! Its like the beginnings of Geordi La Forge’s seeing visor in Star Trek !! Fascinating stuff and thanks for showing us.
    Keep up the great work.

  4. 4 Jessica March 31, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Wow it’s fantastic to see you multitasking again I defo agree with Gary, it’s the Pollock way or the highway!!!
    Thanks so much for the vids really puts a smile on my face watching you do so well.
    Jess x

  5. 5 Thomas March 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Mark, I have been following your recovery for a while and I am incredibly impressed by your drive. You are such an inspiration. I wish you all the best!

  6. 6 Niall O'Connor April 5, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Great to see you so focused on progress Mark, the videos are a superb insight for all of us listening. An inspiration as always, regards Niall

  7. 7 Marie April 6, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Mark – I have been following your story and have just watched your series of videos on Project Walk. I am absolutely amazed and astounded at the difference between now and last October. Your progress has been phenomenal. You are so inspiring and I am so, so delighted for you. Best wishes as you continue on your road to recovery.

  8. 8 Edel April 15, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Hi Mark, I heard you on the radio today in Ireland. Surprisingly it was the first time I learned your name but I listened and was humbled. I broke my leg in thailand in 2000 when I was 24 and due to dodgy sugery had my peroneal nerve severed, I have muscle loss, pain and a drop foot. I haven’t accepted this, don’t wear an orthotic except when exercising and didn’t let it interfere but something you said about accepting your blindness resonated deeply with me. If you don’t accept you don’t move forward. I was feeling very sorry for myself until I heard you speak, then I just felt ashamed that I’d lost all hope after meeting with a specialist last week and the only chance for improvement is surgery. When I heard your story I had to stop the car at the point you told of your accident, You gave me the proverbial kick up the backside I needed. I do believe in the power of the mind and know the body responds with exercise. I hope more than anything that your determination and hard work will get you the results you strive for. I really just want to say thank you, you flipped the self pity switch in me today. Best wishes, Edel Butler

  9. 9 Paul Ryan April 28, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Mark , I’ve just seen the documentary “on thin ice ‘ , in this episode you are interviewed before the race . I had heard of your terrible accident at a wedding I was photographing , I think your sister in law was there . So I took the time to check out your blog and I’m delighted to see that you are still fighting everything life has thrown at you . You are an incredible inspiration to us mere mortals and having been going through a rough patch myself in a much more pathetic respect your struggle is a salutary lesson in how to respond to adversity . You have given me the most important thing I need at the moment and that is hope . You will be in my thoughts every day and keep up all your hard work rehabilitating , you are a hero .

  10. 10 Sean and Geraldine Mc Keown May 2, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Thinking of you and praying for you. Lots of love from the Wash House. Simply the best.

  11. 11 Liam May 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Mark just watched your Late Late Show interview and I’m delighted to see your looking so well. All the very best for the future. Best Regards, Liam.

  12. 12 Jimmy Bolton May 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Just watched you on the late late. You are an inspiration and a better man than I could ever dream of being. Bravery is an understatement. Best of luck with everything you do in the future.
    Jimmy Bolton

  13. 13 Caroline O Callaghan May 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Hi Mark. Just saw your interview with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show. I was very moved and inspired by your courage and vulnerability. I am a homeopath and I believe Arnica could help in your recovery. Please, please, please, please take Arnica 50M. For head and spine trauma, Arnica can heal even in the most critical of injuries. Sometimes Arnica works years after the fact. It is an amazing medicine. Please try it. It is at least worth a try. Contact a homeopathic pharmacy (Nelsons in Dublin or Helios in the UK) and purchase a bottle of Arnica 50M. Take one every 2-3 days and keep taking them until you notice an improvement. Give it a try. Good luck with the Walking Project and thanks again for sharing your story and your courage. Best of luck. Caroline. County Kerry

  14. 14 Martina Quirke May 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Mark, you are such an inspiration.I wish you all the best in the future.

  15. 15 thomas May 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

    — Phillips Brooks
    U.S. Episcopal bishop (1835–1893)

    sincerely thomas

  16. 16 Marion Fitzpatrick May 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Mark, I know if anyone can break new ground in this area it is you. Please keep articulating your experiences for all of us as you do, you have important messages for the world. Your resilience, honesty and humility move and inspire millions. Truly in awe of your response to adversity, remarkable. Thank God for you. x

  17. 17 Sally-Anne May 6, 2011 at 11:20 pm


    Iwas blown away by your resiliance the first time I saw you on telly ,and after tonight well ….. Blown away again !!

  18. 18 Deanna May 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Mark – flipping through the channels in my hotel room in Dublin, I came across The Later Later Show and your story. What an incredible journey you have had. You’ve already proven in life that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I have no doubt that one day you will prove this again. Good luck on your journey to recovery. This too shall pass.

  19. 19 Kirstin Conroy May 6, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Hi – I too have just watched your very brave Late Late Show interview.Well done ! I admire your strength and your achievements so far in your life. I can’t believe your incredible story and I’m sure there have been and will be some low times with your new challenge. You struck me as an amazing person and I’m full of admiration for you. I’m sure with the loving friends and family you have they will help you to take on your new challenges facing you. Thank you for sharing your story and I look forward to reading your blogs.

    Kirstin Conroy

  20. 20 Wendy May 7, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Mark just saw you on Late Late Show. You are an inspiration! I wish you all the best on you road to recovery.

  21. 21 Marie May 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Hi Mark – caught your interview on the Late Late last night, it was lovely to see you back on track again. Keep going.
    Best of luck to yourself and Simone for your future plans.

  22. 22 Cormac May 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Hello Mark,

    Saw you on The Late Late last night. Well done on all your achievements and for being so positive and inspirational.

    Best of luck in the future.


  23. 23 Gary May 8, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Good to see you are back in Ireland, great interview on the late late. You have never stopped in the belief of being positive, your glass is always not half full but overflowing. Keep that positive outlook as others feed off it. Gary

  24. 24 Greg May 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Great to see you on the Late Late and great to see you meeting your challenges with uncommon bravery. Keep up the fight,


  25. 25 Lorraine Keenan May 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Mark,
    Saw you on Fri on late late- what an inspiration. I haven’t seen you in over 2 yrs but have been following your amazing recovery. I wish you and Simone all the best and hope that one day in the future we can go for pints again and relive some of the times from college.
    All the best Lorraine

    • 26 Lorraine Keenan May 10, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      Hi Mark,
      Saw you on Fri on late late- what an inspiration. I haven’t seen you in over 2 yrs but have been following your amazing recovery. I wish you and Simone all the best and hope that one day in the future we can go for pints again and relive some of the times from college.
      All the best Lorraine

  26. 27 Therese May 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Dear Mark.
    Forgive me but i must confess to not having heard of you before last nights repeat late late show but this is because i’ve been away for a few years. But now i’m a huge fan. But you are a true inspiration with your spirit alone. I wish you all the best on your road to recovery and keep going. Therese

  27. 28 John June 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Mark,
    Check out this great talk. Amazing new technologies that might interest you.


  28. 29 Marie June 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Great news on the new technologies Mark – go, go, go…….. onward and upward!!!!!

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